H! Lites — Issue #022: Google drops another sweet treat, is Big Tech hijacking human agency and…
This week, we look at the new features in Android P, the impact of AI-driven recommendations, and how Google Glass is being used to treat Autism as well as Alexa’s new ability to show you what she has learnt.
Hi Mum! Said Dad
Fancy some virtual dessert? Android 9 Pie is here!
Google just released the final version of its new smartphone OS, Android 9 Pie! The main improvements introduced in this update revolve around AI — with Android 9, your phone will learn your preferences, and automatically adjust to cater to your behaviour patterns.
Here’s a brief rundown of the highlights:
Navigation Changes: The traditional “back, home, recents” buttons at the bottom of most Android Phones are now being replaced by a gesture-based interface, which according to Google will make “multitasking more approachable and makes discovering apps much easier”.
Privacy Changes: Afraid that your Facebook app is listening to you while you’re not using it? Fear no more…the new software update prevents apps from accessing the mic, camera and any other sensors while they are in “background” status.
Adaptive Battery: Google has collaborated with it’s offshoot DeepMind (the guys behind the AlphaGo algorithm, remember?) to apply Machine Learning to our biggest smartphone-gripe: the ever-draining battery. The OS will learn which apps you care about the most and prioritise system resources accordingly, making your battery last longer.
Slices & App Actions: No, Google will not be handing out free slices of pie with their new OS — but the new Slices feature is still pretty cool! With Slices, developers can surface interactive snippets of their app UI in Google Search, allowing users to perform app-specific tasks without actually launching the app. For example, users will be able to order a ride with Lyft straight from Search — providing an incredibly frictionless experience.
With App Actions, Android 9 will use Machine Learning to surface apps whenever it predicts you want to use them. For example, if you highlight “Taylor Swift” on your web browser, Android 9 might automatically recommend playing one of Taylor’s songs using your Spotify app.
Smart Reply: Android 9 will suggest replies to the messages you receive based on your past behaviour. With MLKit, third-party developers will also be able to generate Smart Replies for their own apps.
In summary, it is clear that Google’s focus on Artificial Intelligence in Android 9 Pie will allow us to say and do things faster — but at what cost? Continue reading to hear Jeevan’s take on the topic.
By Oliver Iyer, Strategist
Is Big Tech pulling the wool over our eyes?
Following on from above, one of the new features in Android P are ‘in-app actions’. These are suggestions from the OS on who you should call or message on WhatsApp next based on your context. This is part of Google’s promise that Android P will “make your smartphone smarter, simpler and tailored to you” and is of course one of the many things that Google are doing to live up to CEO, Sundar Pichai’s vision of Google being an ‘AI-first company’.
Indeed, Google and other tech companies have been using such predictive analytics techniques for a long time. Google auto-completes search results, LinkedIn suggests who you should connect with and Amazon suggests what you should buy next. This isn’t anything radically new.
Mark Wilson from FastCompany raises an interesting angle about this continued trend, however. Does this age of algorithms and recommendations render human agency moot? Are we at risk of believing that such recommendations are in fact our own actions? If the likes of Google are able to develop technology that is able to predict or guide our next step, just what does that imply about our free will?
This is an area that many tech ethicists are exploring as tech companies infiltrate all aspects of daily life. The fear is that if tech companies can blur the line between human choices and what they want you to do then this means they can begin to manufacture a desired result over time — a result that you (worryingly) believe came about through your own volition.
It’s something to chew on.
By Jeevan Jayaprakash, Strategist
Google Glass reborn with a life-changing purpose
The world of technology is constantly evolving around us as each new product seems to revolutionise reality as we know it. Some, if not most of us, have certainly forgotten about the once big hype that surrounded Google Glass. At first, the product fuelled futuristic dreams, but where is Google Glass today?
The product may have failed to live up to futuristic expectations, but it serves a great purpose elsewhere. A recent study conducted by Stanford’s School of Medicine demonstrates how Google Glass can be used to help children on the autism spectrum to both deal with their social anxiety as well as develop their social skills. In particular, the glasses help children recognise emotions and understand faces, easing the social anxiety many of them experience.
The study includes 14 families with kids between the ages of 3–17, all of whom have been clinically diagnosed with autism. The Google Glass device is linked to a smartphone app, and as the child interacts with others, the app identifies and names their emotions through the Google Glass speaker or screen. After taking a social skills questionnaire at the end of the study, six of the children had experienced changes large enough to move down one step in the severity of autism classification.
The impact of this study is huge and has the potential to drastically better the lives of children with autism, many of whom have to wait up to 18 months just to begin treatment with a therapist after being diagnosed. As the mother of Alex, a 9 year old boy on the autism spectrum (featured in the photo above), reflected on the progress made by her son, “He told me, ‘Mommy, I can read minds!’’ My heart sang. I’d like other parents to have the same experience.”
When you read about this study, it becomes difficult to brand Google Glass a complete failure despite what the tech press might say.
By Anastasia McLain, Strategist
Cool thing of the week: Alexa has a new reason to talk to you
Amazon always references how Alexa is learning and becoming more intelligent. Well, they now want to proactively prove that she is indeed getting smarter!
Amazon has announced a new feature called ‘Answer Update’. If a user asks a question that Alexa is unable to answer, the user will be notified in the future by Alexa when she has learned the answer to said question.
By Anastasia McLain, Strategist
Originally written as part of Hi Mum! Said Dad’s weekly newsletter, H! Lites.
H! Lites hits you with a short, sharp, weekly dose of the latest and greatest across tech, business, design and other contemporary issues that we think would be of value to our readers.
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