Tag Archives: Gadget Features

Five ways Google could help start an apocalypse

Atlas Google

The same company that has access to your calendar, e-mail, and search history also owns this. Sleep well.

DARPA/Boston Dynamics)

A decade ago, we used to hear a lot more about Google’s informal motto: “Don’t be evil.” It doesn’t come up as much anymore, but those three words still lead off Google’s corporate code of conduct. And given some of the company’s recent acquisitions that are heavy on robotics and artificial intelligence companies, that’s probably a good thing.

But still, with an Internet giant also buying up the know-how to make killer robots, it’s not too hard to imagine something like the classic science-fiction conceits of SkyNet turning on its creators taking root at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif. “Don’t be evil” is a great startup motto, but what’s the old truism about power corrupting? Sometimes, it seems like Google is heading toward absolute power in some areas.

To be fair, my whole premise here is about 99 percent tongue-in-cheek. I don’t actually go to bed at night worrying that the touchless control on my
Moto X is going to take touchless control of my life by the time I wake up. But there is that paranoid 1 percent or so of my brain that sees how the End Times could come from the seemingly innocent things Google is doing today. Let’s look at just a handful of these far-fetched scenarios:

1. Killer robots that know everything about us. In just the past 60 days, Google has bought a half dozen robotics companies and one that works in artificial intelligence. Among those companies is Boston Dynamics, which has designed robots for the military that can run like a cheetah and climb vertical walls. Did I mention they also have a humanoid “Atlas” robot that, although not specifically designed for any offensive military use, can withstand being hit by projectiles and looks an awful lot like a predecessor to what we’ve seen in the “Terminator” series? Connect Atlas up to Google Now and you’ve got a bulletproof robot with a pet robotic cheetah that knows where you live and travel and what your interests, plans, and even musical tastes are. Sleep tight,
Android fans.

2. Self-driving
cars pave the highway to hell.
Google’s autonomous cars still seem pretty far from mainstream implementation, but if the technology ever were to become a primary means of transportation, it would need to be operated through a shared network. If that network were ever compromised, or — just for dramatic purposes — became sentient, let’s say — then we have another possible SkyNet scenario on our hands. After all, this is a world where hackers were able to remotely mess with Iran’s uranium-enriching centrifuges until they broke. The notion that robot cars could be hijacked remotely and driven into the tiger habitat at the local zoo isn’t as science fiction as it once seemed. There’s also the worst-case scenario: that all those Scions become self-aware of just how strangely boxy and ugly they are and seek revenge on their creators.

Google car

Driving us to extinction?


3. Real-world Androids to fall in love with — until they destroy us. Spike Jonze’s Oscar-nominated flick “Her” imagines a world in which we can fall in love with an operating system with artificial intelligence baked in. Well, last year, Google bought a little company called DNNResearch and brought its founder Geoffrey Hinton on board. Both specialize in artificial neural networks and aim to help systems recognize things like speech and objects. Add to this Google’s more recently reported acquisition of artificial intelligence firm DeepMind, and suddenly it seems that Jonze’s vision of an intangible girlfriend seems within reach. Don’t forget that Google is also now the humanoid robot company, meaning we may not have to wait centuries for Cylons — and we all know how trustworthy they are.

4. Nest turns our castles into prisons. For years now, Google has been making noise about home automation and the Internet of Things with initiatives like Android @home, which still hasn’t made it to market. But then it went and bought an established innovator that people have actually heard of in Nest. So now we’ve got a leader in home automation under the umbrella of the leading search company pursuing the dream of the “conscious home.” We’re on our way to the world of the Jetsons with a life of leisure! Unless, well, you should probably just go read some Arthur C. Clarke and watch out for the character named HAL.

5. Gmail slips into a coma. We recently experienced a taste of a truly traumatic Googpocalypse when Gmail went down worldwide for a short period of time. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if the service vanished from our lives for an entire day, or week, or perhaps even permanently. Don’t laugh. It happened to Google Reader; it could happen to that Gmail account where you store all your photos, sensitive correspondence, passwords, manuscripts, love letters, financial records, and drafts of Justin Bieber fan letters you never had the guts to send on an account you share with your wife.

What other ways could the “Don’t be evil” company be hijacked for less-than-not-evil ends? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter @EricCMack and @Crave. Or just share your data-driven nightmares and we’ll work through them together.

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Electric jolt causes star-shaped cataracts on man’s eyes

New England Journal of Medicine)

Instead of seeing stars, an electrician who experienced a 14,000-volt electric shock to the left shoulder came away with star-shaped cataracts stamped on both eyes, doctors reported last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens, which is a structure that helps focus light or an image. When the lens is clear, light passes through to the eye’s retina — a tissue located at the back of the eye — where the brain processes the image. If the lens is cloudy due to cataracts, the result is blurry vision.

Cataracts are commonly caused by aging, so common that more than half of Americans have a cataract or undergo surgery to fix them by the time they are 80 years old.

The male patient, 42, underwent cataract extraction surgery four months after the electric shock, and also had an implant placed in to act like a lens and focus light, what’s called in intraocular lens. It improved his vision a bit, but he was still legally blind and could only count fingers out of his left eye. He likely won’t fully regain his sight because of damage to the retina and optic nerve, the structure that transmits visual signals from the retina to the brain.

New York City-based optometrist Dr. Justin Rapp, who had no involvement in the man’s case, explained to CBS News that the electrical current may have disrupted the chemical balance in the man’s blood, which in turn decreased blood flow to the optic nerves and parts of the retina, as evidenced by the whitish cloud structures seen in the bottom half of the above photos.

This chemical disruption may also have impacted the fluid around the lens, which contributed to the clouding effect, or cataract.

Often, cataracts have been known to form snowflake or star-shaped patterns, Rapp pointed out, but he’s never quite seen a case like this.

“This is a shockingly ‘perfect’ example of an stellate (star-shaped) cataract,” he said. “The fact that it goes completely 360 degrees around the outer edge of the lens is definitely remarkable.”

This story originally appeared on CBSNews.com.

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iOS in the car could look like this

iOS in the Car

Siri is about to move into your dashboard.

Video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET)

We might finally have a clearer idea of how Apple believes iOS should look in your car.

A video put together by noted developer Steven Troughton-Smith places an iPhone and in-car display side by side using what appears to be an iOS simulator that Troughton-Smith says is available in the “public, shipping version of
iOS 7.”

WWDC 2013, Apple announced plans to better integrate iOS into car dashboard screens, a holy grail of sorts for carmakers. Then last month the second version of an iOS 7.1 beta added mention of a “Car Display” setting that could foreshadow a release of iOS in the
car is coming sooner than later.

New “connected car” technologies of all sorts were all over the floor at CES 2014, and it seems likely that we’ll see the official rollout for iOS in the car in the coming months as well.

The video only shows Maps and how Siri and touch might be integrated into the system, but Troughton-Smith also had the following notes on apparent features of iOS in the car:

– Supports Multiple Resolutions
– Supports touchscreens (presumably single-touch?), hardware buttons, wheels and touch pads
– Does not support multitasking – car display will always show same current on-screen app as iPhone (which can be locked/asleep)
– Whitelisted to specific Apple apps – no public API for developers [yet?]
– Has no keyboard UI – voice recognition as input
– UI clearly subject to change
– Missing functionality in video is due to iOS Simulator not containing all the stock iOS apps

The conventional wisdom for some time has been that the longer development cycle for vehicles (measured in years, versus months for mobile devices) is what has kept Apple from getting a native version of iOS into the dashboard, but I have to wonder if they just had to make sure all the bugs were finally worked out of Apple Maps.

Take a look at the video and let us know what you think about the future of iOS in your car.

(Via 9to5Mac)

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Google Glass now framed for prescriptions

Google Glass product director Steve Lee has high hopes that Glass on prescription frames will make it easier for non-Glass wearers to get accustomed to the Internet-connected headsets.

Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

The top-requested Google Glass improvement is now a reality, as Google unveils its plan for prescription Google Glass frames.

Available Monday at the Google Glass Web site, prescription frames for the Internet-enabled headset cost $225, in addition to the $1,500 entry fee to the Explorer program. Google is adding four titanium frame styles — Bold, Curve, Thin, and Split — and two new tinted shade styles — Active and Edge — to the mix. The tinted shades will cost $150.

Google expects public availability of Glass beyond the Explorer program to happen in late 2014.

The styles are based on existing popular trends in the eye care industry, said Steve Lee, Glass’ product director. Prescription frames are the most-requested improvement to the Explorer program by current Glass owners, he said.

Counting Glass’ five colors and its original frame and shade,
Google Glass owners will be able to mix and match up to 40 combinations of colors, frames, and shades.

“We think they’ll accommodate most people’s tastes. Anybody who is familiar with the process of getting [an eyeglasses] prescription filled will be familiar with how you get prescription Glass,” Lee said.

The simple frame that Glass launched with still will be available for people who don’t want to upgrade to a frame that can handle lenses, although Google confirmed last November’s rumor that it has partnered with US eye care insurer VSP to help reduce the cost.

Jim McGrann, president of VSP VisionCare, said that the eye care insurer has been talking to Google specifically about Glass for “a little more” than year. VSP won’t only help cover the cost of the frames and lenses, but it’s currently training doctors to help ensure that people who own Google Glass have it properly fitted for their eyes and frames.

Google frames Glass with new styles and shades (pictures)

Optometrists trained to fit Google Glass to the new prescription frames are currently located only in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, McGrann said, although Google has plans to quickly expand to other cities.

“Our goal is to have 6,000 doctors trained by the end of the year, throughout the country. We have 200 trained so far,” he said.

Dr. Matthew Albert, a 17-year veteran optometrist who also currently serves on VSP’s board of directors and is now the company’s chairman of optometric innovations, works as a liaison between Google and VSP. “We need to make sure that Glass is fitted properly, and that the lenses are fabricated properly,” he said. “A home run for me would be a positive patient experience.”

Google and VSP have a longstanding relationship, as VSP has provided Google’s eye care insurance since the company was founded. As part of VSP’s nationwide reach, it has more than 30,000 doctors on its rolls.

Katie Matsushima, a Glass Guide at Google’s San Francisco office, models the Split titanium frame.

Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Given how new Google Glass is, it wasn’t surprising that McGrann defined success in broad, somewhat nebulous terms. For patients insured by VSP, it will be that they get the “proper information” and “proper care” about Glass, “making sure that they’re working closely with their doctor.” On the doctor side, he said it’s about getting them trained and comfortable with making Glass adjustments to accommodate prescription lenses.

“In the certification process, we’ve shown doctors the evolution of the device, what it’s intended to do,” Albert said, noting adjustments such as the placement of Google Glass’ prism in relationship to the prescription lens.

Albert is predicting a “huge interest” in prescription Glass.

What Glass won’t be able to accommodate, however, is everybody’s prescription.

“Extreme prescriptions outside of +4 or -4 won’t work, but most people should be covered,” he said. Bifocals and trifocals, he said, will depend on the optometrists’ recommendation.

Albert said that the problem wasn’t the frame, but controlling the impression that Google Glass creates on the wearer. It’s message control.

“The frame I’m sure could accommodate higher prescriptions, but there’s a lot of variables when you start expanding the prescription,” he said.

Lee thinks that prescriptions will go a long way toward spreading the social acceptability of Glass. “We have evidence that it could double the demand for Glass,” he said, noting that “60 percent of Americans need corrective vision.”

Lee and his cohorts on the Glass team are placing a big bet on tying Glass adoption to existing behavior. Your eyeglasses won’t just correct your vision, Lee said, but provide, “directions, live translations, really cool stuff.”

Along with the original tinted shade called Classic, in the middle, Google is offering two extra shade styles: Active (top) and Edge (bottom).

Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

The idea is that when you go to grab your eyeglasses or sunglasses in the morning along with your wallet and keys, you’ll have Glass already there for you.

Part of that is creating a purchasing experience not all that different from how people currently buy glasses. Google wants people to buy Glass with the frame they want, and then take it to an optometrist’s office to have the prescription filled.

Lee said that Google designed the frames in-house, and is working with a Japanese manufacturer “that’s an expert at making titanium frames.” Titanium was chosen because of its low weight, flexibility, and the ease with which it can be fit to different faces, while the shades are made by sunglasses maker Maui Jim.

However, Lee added that you don’t have to get a prescription filled to get the new Glass frames.

“The product we deliver comes with blank lenses. They’re high quality and you can use them as we deliver it,” he said.

Google advises against leaving the Glass unit with the frames while the prescription is being filled. The Glass hardware can be removed from the frame with a tool included with the standard Glass kit, Lee explained.

He hopes that the Glass Titanium collection of frames will inspire other eyewear makers to design their own frames for Google Glass, similar to how the Nexus line demonstrates what’s possible with
Android hardware.

“This is just the start,” Lee said. “You’ll see that a lot of different styles can be accommodated.”

Google Glass now offers a range of frames suitable for prescription lenses, and three choices of tinted shades.

Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

One of the larger goals of the prescription availability is that people who wear eyeglasses regularly will help make Glass itself more palatable to the public. Getting people to be more accepting of Glass remains a challenge for Google, as demonstrated in an Ohio movie theater last week when a moviegoer found himself accused of bootlegging a movie while wearing Glass.

For VSP’s McGrann, the key point is that insurance will provide a way to get people accustomed to Google Glass — both elite Explorers and non-owners.

“The more people using the technology, the more comfortable people are. I think that it will help get [Glass] more mainstream,” he said.

A Google spokesperson said that the Ohio man’s frames were not officially sanctioned prescription frames from Google, showing that there’s already a market for prescription glasses with Google Glass — at least, among Glass owners. It still leaves open the question of how the general public will react once Glass is available to all.

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Twerking for Vader: Stormtroopers get down

Twerking away the day.

Screenshot by CNET)

Stormtroopers may not be able to hit the broad side of a barn when aiming at rebel scum, but they can at least hit the dance floor with impressive moves.

This fan-made “Star Wars” video — “Stormtrooper Secrets – Hip Hop Twerk” — features stormtroopers dancing and twerking their cold little hearts out until Darth Vader puts a kibosh on their Imperial jig.

Dancing stormtroopers are nothing new. Tokyo Dance Trooper (aka Danny Choo) has entertained tourists on the streets of Japan, Paris, and London for years with his impressive dance moves.

But this marks the first time we’ve seen a gaggle of stormtroopers twerking…at least in this galaxy.

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Where should I put my TV?

Top Row: Omnimount. Bottom Row: BDI

Omnimount, BDI)

No matter what size or type of TV you’re considering, ponder placement for a moment. Maybe that spot that’s always been home for the TV isn’t ideal. Maybe a slight shuffle of furniture will yield better picture quality, or allow for a larger TV.

I can’t come to your home to help with ideas (sorry), but I can give you some dos and don’ts when it comes to TV placement, to point you in the right direction (i.e., toward the screen).

Obviously if you have a massive entertainment center, you’re limited in your placement potential. But putting the option out there for a room reorganization might be the leverage you need to convince your spouse to get a new TV (or a larger TV).

Before you get the idea of a 22-inch LCD stuck in the corner of the ceiling, or an 84-inch 4K smack in the middle of the room, keep the following tips in mind.


…Check height. While there’s no set height for TV placement, ideally you don’t want the TV to be too high. Staring up at a TV is like sitting in the front row of a movie theater. It’s not ideal, not comfortable, and not conducive to long viewing sessions. Generally speaking, you want the center of the TV to be about eye level, or even slightly lower. This is true whether you’re mounting the TV, or putting it on a stand. For more on this, check out How high should I put my TV?

…Check distance. It’s unlikely anyone reading this is going to be sitting too close to their TV. Most people sit about nine feet from the TV, which is too far to distinguish between 1080p and 720p TVs of most sizes. Sitting closer to your TV has two benefits: it fills more of your field of view (so it’s more immersive), and you can see more resolution (the image is more detailed). If you can’t/don’t want to sit closer, you can alternatively get a larger TV. Check out How big a TV should I buy? for more info.

…Check placement. Room lighting and reflections are the No. 1 killer of TV images according to a study I just made up. The fact is, pretty much every modern TV has a reflective screen, and I don’t care how awesome your lamps are, they’re not as interesting as what’s on TV (OK, that’s arguable.) Sure, you can just turn off the lights (or close the blinds), but sometimes that’s not easy or possible. If it isn’t, check out How to rid your HDTV of reflections.

If you’re thinking of wall mounting, keep in mind the all the Dos mentioned so far. Plus, if you’re thinking of getting an LCD, make sure you get a wall mount that’s able to pivot or adjust. With few exceptions, LCDs have worse performance if you’re not sitting directly in front of them. Being able to pivot or move a wall mounted TV so it’s aimed directly at your eyeballs will be a huge improvement in picture quality (compared to the same TV not aimed at you). It’s worth mentioning at this point TV weight is not a limiting factor when it comes to mounting.

…Consider more than style. When it comes to TV stands, there are countless options. Consider the TV height in addition to whatever style you like. Most stands are fairly uniform in height, and a few inches above or below ideal isn’t going to matter, but a large TV on a tall stand isn’t a great idea.

…Consider the mini-humans. Turns out, falling TVs injure a child every half-hour. Check out How to keep your TV from falling over if you’ve got kids or lively pets.


…Mount the TV too high. A TV at the correct height is going to look really low when you’re standing. Which is fine, since most of the time you won’t be standing when you’re watching.

…Mount a TV above a fireplace. For the above reason and more.

…Mount a “regular” TV outside. There are TVs made for just that. Or, if you don’t want to spend the money on a TV designed for outside, just know that any TV you leave out there isn’t likely to last long (even if it’s under an awning). Best to bring it in when you’re not using it.

…Sit too far away. However, you can get a larger TV to compensate.

…Put the TV in an awkward location. If you have to turn your head to see the screen, it’s just going to lead to sore necks. Twisting your head a bit may not seem like a big deal, but keeping it that way for hours at a time can be a pain — literally.

Bottom line

Let’s take two rooms as examples. First room: you have a great TV, mounted high on a wall near the corner, with the sofa and adjacent lamps, on the other side of the room in the other corner. These poor folks have a small-seeming TV, lots of reflections, and stiff necks from turning and looking up at the TV. Second room: the TV is mounted at eye level, the sofa is eight to nine feet away, and a bias light provides soft room lighting. In which room would you want to watch a marathon of “Arrested Development”?

Proper placement can determine a significant portion of the overall enjoyment of a new TV. It’s worth considering adjusting your room to be more conducive to comfortable TV viewing. Not only will you gain potential picture and comfort improvements, but in the process, you might free up more space for other things. Like a rug that really ties the room together. Or that life-sized Storm Trooper you’ve always wanted.

Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he’s written on topics like HDMI cables, LED LCD vs. plasma, active versus passive 3D, and more. Still have a question? Send him an e-mail! He won’t tell you what TV to buy, but he might use your letter in a future article. You can also send him a message on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff or Google+.

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