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The Morning After: Friday, May 26th 2017

We'll wait.Android co-founder Andy Rubin will reveal 'something big' May 30th

With a resume that includes the Android platform and the Sidekick, you can bet we'll be paying attention to Andy Rubin's company Essential Products, when it reveals "something big" in a few days. Pics have teased a mobile device, and another image yesterday hinted at a 360-degree camera add-on. Stay tuned.

As Elon Musk says, the launch is 'guaranteed to be exciting.'
SpaceX begins test-firing parts of its biggest rocket

SpaceX is trying out some of its boosters -- and they're big. After releasing a clip of last week's test-fire, Elon Musk tweeted that, when the Falcon Heavy eventually launches this summer, it'll be this powerful, but "times three."

You can even use it in the cafeteria
Fidelity Investments dives into bitcoin

Starting later this year, Fidelity clients will be able to check their bitcoin balance through the company's website, as long it's stored on Coinbase. A vote of confidence from Fidelity's CEO arrives while the cryptocurrency is trading at an all-time high, and suggests that eight years in, it could be here to stay.

It's all up to you.T-Mobile's flexible Digits plans come out of beta on May 31st

The latest UnCarrier wrinkle out of Big Magenta is "Digits," a service that lets users mix and match numbers and devices as they wish. Similar to Google Voice, it can sync messages and calls across devices, or support multiple numbers that all point to the same handset. All current customers will be upgraded to Digits at the end of this month, and purchasing an additional line will cost $10 per month for most.

Physical shops will borrow tricks from the web to deliver ultimate convenience.

Your mall will basically have to be psychic to survive

For some of us, the rush we get from buying a new dress or gadget can be cathartic. And in the not-too-distant future, real-world shopping will get so seamless that it could feel like the store is actually psychic. But it's not just about flashy displays of bleeding-edge tech. Instead, expect a subtler approach that focuses on understanding your tastes to find you your next outfit while you're in the fitting room, all in the right size. Stores will learn to recognize you as you browse and change dynamically to show things that matter more to you. We take a closer look at both the convenience of online shopping, and what happens next.

MixerMicrosoft's Twitch competitor gets a new name and co-op streaming

Last year Microsoft bought Beam, a Twitch competitor that focused on low-latency streaming. Now it's announced the company will rebrand under the name Mixer, at the same time it rolls out some new features. Already built into the Xbox platform on consoles and PCs, Mixer will allow up to four players to broadcast on one livestream channel -- perfect for co-op streaming. Also, during E3 next month, Mixer will stream Microsoft's Xbox press conference in 4K -- provided you have the right hardware.

Its most expensive original series won't be extended.
Netflix cans Baz Luhrmann's 'The Get Down'

Not even millions of dollars can save a series not enough people are watching.

But wait, there's more...

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/the-morning-after-friday-may-26th-2017/

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Kodak’s chunky, retro cameraphone is coming to the US

You might not hear much about Kodak these days, but the brand still exists -- it even released a new smartphone with a humongous camera in Europe last year. Now, that same phone named after its Ektra camera from the '40s has made its way to the US. As a phone, the new Ektra doesn't really have impressive features with its 5-inch 1080p display, 32GB internal storage, deca-core MediaTek Helio X20 processor and 3GB of RAM. It also ships with Android Marshmallow instead of Nougat. Ektra's main draw is none other than its 21MP camera (with six-axis image stabilization, no less) that takes up a huge chunk of its leatherette-wrapped back.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/kodak-retro-camera-smartphone-us-launch/

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‘Pokémon Go’ update gives cheaters lousy monsters

For instance, cheaters often use bots that falsify their locations or power scanners to show the locations of the sweetest Pokémon. That way, you can find a Pikachu and catch it from your couch rather than hiking several miles to the local power plant. If Niantic has flagged you as an "illicit" player, however, the best you can probably hope for is a Magikarp.

Silph Road's mods wrote that "huge numbers of bot accounts were being flagged, though many were still operating normally." Users have debated why specific accounts were getting the hammer, with one theory being that Niantic is cracking down on accounts trying to access its private servers.

That doesn't appear to be the only reason, though, and Niantic itself is obviously not saying. "While we cannot discuss the systems implemented, we can confirm that we are constantly refining new ways to ensure the integrity of the game in order to keep it fun and fair for all Trainers," its statement reads.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/pokemon-go-update-shadowban-cheaters/

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Time-bending shooter ‘Superhot VR’ arrives on HTC Vive

At least, officially. More enthusiastic Vive gamers have been able to tap into ReVive, a software workaround that let Steam VR users access to Oculus exclusives like Superhot VR since last year. That said, Github files and a little bit of hard work aren't for all of us, and the official release on Steam is a good sign for the remaining Vive owners looking for a VR title to tide them over until E3 next month.

The game's posit is cleverly simple: Time moves forward as you do. It's arguably more of a puzzle game than shooter, as you plan your movement through levels to avoid getting trapped -- and then filled with bullets. Available on Steam now, Superhot VR is launching with an early-bird 20 percent discount (down to $20) through til the start of June.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/superhot-vr-htc-vive-launch/

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Oculus Rift officially supports the HTC Vive’s best feature

HTC's Vive headset supported room-scale VR from the get-go, and Oculus has been playing catch-up for some time now. In its experimental phase, the Rift's implementation wasn't exactly user-friendly, leading Oculus to craft a four-part blog series conveying setup advice and educating owners about compatibility issues with older USB standards, among other things. While this may still serve as useful reference material, the notes accompanying the version 1.15 software release state "tracking with three sensors is now fully supported," meaning there shouldn't be any major issues getting it up and running.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/oculus-rift-room-scale-vr/

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Everything you need to know about mobile Amber Alerts

Until about five years ago, this wouldn't have been possible. That's because it was only in December 2012 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) started to implement the Wireless Emergency Alert program, which is the one responsible for that aforementioned high-pitched tone.

The Wireless Emergency Alert program (also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert system) is used not just for Amber Alerts, but also to warn the public about natural disasters and imminent threats. Alerts can be issued by the National Weather Service, the office of the president of the United States and emergency operation centers. Think of it as the Emergency Broadcast System, but instead of appearing on radio and TV, it's on your phone.

Still, when most people think of these emergency notifications, they think of Amber Alerts, simply because they occur more often. The US Department of Justice started the Amber Alert program in 1996 in honor of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas. The word "Amber" also stands for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response Plan." According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Amber Alert program is "a voluntary partnership between law enforcement, broadcasters and transportation agencies to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases."


Before this, if you wanted to receive Amber Alerts on your phone, you had to opt-in with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The program was simply called the Wireless Amber Alert program, and you'd have to not only sign up online but also specify which locations you wanted to get alerts from. Only around 700,000 people did this, so its reach was limited. Now, anyone with a cellphone receives the alerts by default.

While the previous Wireless Amber Alert program was SMS text-based, the current Emergency Alert program uses a technology called Cell Broadcast, which delivers messages to all phones within range of designated cell towers. It doesn't send the message to individual recipients, so it doesn't need to know your phone number and it doesn't need to know who you are. This way, the alert also won't be affected by voice and SMS text channels, which are typically more congested. Wireless Emergency Alert notifications are always free.

Each alert will contain up to 90 characters and is designed to be loud and unusual enough to capture your attention. The alert also typically only goes out to a certain geographic area where it would be of most use. So if a child was last seen in San Francisco, the Amber Alert would be sent to everyone in San Francisco, or at least in California. Sometimes the Alert is expanded to several states simultaneously, as was the case with missing 16-year-old Hannah Anderson from San Diego in 2013; authorities followed her abductor through California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state and Idaho, sending out Amber Alerts in each state.

It's worth noting that not every missing-child report results in an Amber Alert. Not only is it reserved for "serious child-abduction cases," it's also provided only when authorities have enough information to put in the alert, such as the description of the child, the abductor or at least the type of vehicle they were last seen in. The goal of an Amber Alert is to "instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and safe recovery of the child."


Apparently, it works. Hannah, for example, was found in Idaho thanks to an Amber Alert warning on television. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 857 children have been successfully recovered as a result of the Amber Alert program. However, only 38 were thanks to wireless emergency alerts, which is less than 5 percent of all recoveries (the rest were found through Amber Alerts on TV or the radio).

Still, that's 38 kids who otherwise would not have been found. Of those children, one is an 8-month-old boy in Minnesota, who was found because a neighbor saw the alert on his phone and recognized a Kia that matched the description. Another was a 7-month-old in New York City, who was recovered after the alert led to a tip sent to the police hot line.

You can disable these notifications if you wish. In Android, the settings will be under Cell Broadcast, while on iOS, you'll find the Government Alerts toggle under Notifications. But, seeing as these alerts could save lives, we suggest leaving them on.

Oh, and about that Amber Alert that I received last Friday? The child's name is Makai Bangoura, and he was found safe in Culver City, 400 miles from San Francisco. Alex Bastian of the San Francisco district attorney's office tells ABC 7 News that "the Amber Alert played a pivotal role" in his recovery.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/amber-alert-explainer/

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‘Far Cry 5’ brings cult mayhem to Hope County February 27th

As hinted at by the cover art reveal, religion plays a big role here as well. The Eden's Gate cult is terrorizing the local community under the guise of saving the residents' souls. Naturally that involves forced baptisms/drownings while also holding what looks like a bible and keeping someone on their knees by waving a rifle in their face. You know, light narrative fare.

The development team spent a few weeks in Montana doing on-site research and also studied religious cults in an attempt to depict them correctly, the PlayStation Blog notes. Rather than focus on one central villain as in games past, the idea here was to build a realistic framework around Joseph Seed, the leader of Eden's Gate.

"We look back at some of the characters that we've created before, and we've had those key moments where you sit down with them, and you look at them eye to eye," creative director Dan Hay says. "But we kind of did it with one character at a time, and each game was a face-off. This time, we thought it'd be really interesting if we created a cast of characters like that."

So, there's Jacob the head of security; John, a lawyer who advances the cult's public presence and Faith who "keeps the cult's members pacified."

Ubisoft promises that there will be more revealed during its E3 media briefing on June 12th, but if you're curious for more before then, there's plenty of info tucked away on the game's official website.

The trailer says that this was captured from in-engine footage, but maybe don't expect actual gameplay visuals to look exactly like this next February 27th on your PC, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/far-cry-5-release-date-february-27/

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Truly intelligent enemies could change the face of gaming

The Monolith Productions team isn't alone in believing that one of gaming's frontiers lies with the unpredictability of AI-controlled enemies and allies. Mitu Khandaker teaches on the topic as assistant arts professor at NYU Game Center -- but as chief creative officer at artificial-intelligence company Spirit AI, she's also working with a team to develop technology for companies to use in their own games.

"What we do is build tools to help developers creatively author story scenarios and author personalities for characters and the kinds of things that characters might say, but then those characters might improvise based on the space that you've authored for them," Khandaker told Engadget. "There's a lot of potential there for players to really have deeper, more meaningful conversations with characters."

"There's a lot of potential there for players to really have deeper, more meaningful conversations with characters."

Spirit AI's efforts could be summarized as "building technology which will let us make the walking simulator a conversation," according to Khandaker. Think of the squad's idle chatter in Mass Effect, or the casual smalltalk during long car rides in Final Fantasy XV: Pre-written, nonessential dialogue tumbling out of an algorithmic generator that organically delivers exposition and character detail. But what if those AI characters talking to the player and making up responses on the fly — even if they're enemy grunts with their guns drawn?

Khandaker can imagine creating games where the enemies aren't just tokens or pawns but more fully formed virtual characters. "Instead of just committing violence upon some kind of enemy, maybe [players will be] trying to understand their motives, she said. "Now, in this cultural context, more than ever, a human understanding of the reasons why people make decisions they do is super-important. Even if, on some level, we think decisions people make might be evil, we still need to have the level of understanding because that's how we learn and grow and how we combat evil."

What Shadow of War won't have are human enemies that players can mind control or kill in gruesome ways: Your foes will be Mordor-born Orcs who span the gray-brown gamut and exhibit the violent, traitorous ways of their race. This is intentional.

"One of the challenging things is striking the balance of having a game that's fundamentally pretty gritty and violent, but also making sure that we have this humor in there and this levity to it," de Plater said. "Ultimately, even though it is dealing with some dark themes, there is a cartoony level of violence as well. Orcs represent these caricatures. Everything's turned up to 11 in terms of their personality and their characters and their faults, and the violence of their society and how power-crazed they all are; how backstabbing and cutthroat they are against anyone."

In short, you'll be dispatching and commanding a class of enemy designed to be dynamically interesting yet disposable in a way that shouldn't trigger a player's ethical qualms. Game critic Austin Walker believed that the first game, Shadow of Mordor, failed to justify Talion's anti-Orc kill-and-enslave crusade: "But we're told again and again that these Orcs want to destroy beautiful things. It just doesn't hold up, and this tension extends to every element of their narrative and systemic characterizations. These Orcs have fears, interests, values, rivalry and friendships. Some Orcs are lovingly protective of their bosses or underlings. But they are 'savage creatures' that 'hate beauty,' so go ahead and enslave them," Walker wrote.

At least Shadow of War will strive to explore new and uncomfortable relationships between player and enemy. Even if it never lets players forget Orcs are villains at their core, some will attempt to liberate themselves from any overlord, dark or bright, de Plater said. He didn't specify whether these autonomy-seeking enemies will be a scripted faction in the game. But imagine wandering down the sludgy Mordor foothills only to find a procedurally-generated band of Orcs that avoid conflict and try to run away from you, the bogeyman who's murdered (or recruited) all their friends, as they search for a better life.

Imbuing enemies with relatable traits -- human traits -- is as fascinating as it is discomforting. Since their inception, single-player games have driven a hard wedge between players and enemies by making the latter alien and threatening. Space Invaders and Galaga literally used aliens, while Missile Defense tossed unthinking explosives at the vulnerable people populating the player's cities. The dawn of the first-person-shooter genre featured demonic monsters in Doom and Nazis in Wolfenstein 3D, enemies so unrelatable that players don't think when gunning them down.

Spirit AI's clients are using its AI-conversation tech to augment NPC allies, though Khandaker's team is starting to graft it onto enemies. But it's really up to whoever uses Spirit's tools, and whichever studio decides to challenge players with ordinary foes that do more than shoot in their direction.

"I would love to see that as a moral choice that you make. It should be sometimes deeply troubling, depending on your particular game, that somebody is so human and so full of their own motive, doing the things that they're doing, that it's not so easy to dehumanize them," Khandaker said.

"I think that through good, well-considered design, we'll get to a point where actually these interactions with characters help us to better understand the motivations that real people have."

"This is why I think it comes down to designing photo-realistic, naturalistic AI really well. If [designers] let you push them around, you're going to maybe transfer that to real people. If, however, they don't — if they push back and they try and do the emotional labor of helping you to understand what it is to interact with someone in a nice, well-considered way — then you can maybe transfer that to your interactions with people," Khandaker said. "I think that through good, well-considered design, we'll get to a point where actually these interactions with characters help us to better understand the motivations that real people have."

Whether AI tech will develop substantially in the next few years and, ultimately, whether improving enemy and ally AI will positively affect the player's experience, is another question. As Compulsion Games' Creative Director Guillaume Provost points out, making smarter enemies doesn't matter much if the player doesn't know what's going on.

"Making AIs that are believable often involve stuff that's not that technical and has a lot more to do with the acting parts that are involved in the AI," Provost said. "So it's not so much the sophistication of the technology behind it as it is the sophistication of expressing what's going on in their heads to the player."

"It's not so much the sophistication of the technology behind it as it is the sophistication of expressing what's going on in their heads to the player."

For Provost, that meant tweaking some gameplay in Compulsion Games' latest title, We Happy Few, which was released in Early Access last year. In it, players try to escape an English city whose denizens imbibe drugs en masse to forget their communal crimes -- and punish those who won't do the same. In playtesting, this meant making the hostile NPCs warn the player several times before violently reacting. They couldn't assume players would pick up on cues because in gaming, players' attention is focused on what they're interacting with at the time.

"The truth is, it's not a movie where you sit down and watch people the whole time. You're actively doing stuff. You're running around, you're stealing stuff. The player has a smaller portion of their brain left to understand what the people around them are doing," Provost said.

Which is why developers have to treat player attention as a resource and be smart about what they make intelligent. Provost recalled a story about the grunts in the first Halo who were programmed to yell out "I surrender" and wave their arms around -- but players would gun them down before the little enemies could bark out their lines. Similarly, Provost doesn't see nearly as much use for plugging more AI into enemies to make them smarter in future games.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/the-future-of-video-game-violence/

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A Paris school is using AI to monitor distracted students

The bot will be used for two classes at the ESG Business school, including a 30 hour "street marketing" course, as part of a distance learning program. Eventually, it'll be offered as part of live lectures and used in conjunction with a camera that can analyze students live to see if they're engaged or bored, ESG says. It can then, believe it or not, send a text or notification as a virtual kick in the rear.

The data from the program will also be useful to teachers, letting them know which parts of their lectures are grabbing students and which parts aren't. The developers say it could also help students in different ways -- if you let it track your online activities, it could proposed a personalized course schedule based on times when you're watching YouTube, for instance.

Marcel Saucet, head of the company that created the bot, said that Nestor won't store video footage nor sell it to advertisers, a promise suspicious students might take with a grain of salt. The data will also be encrypted and anonymous, the company promised. As The Verge notes, ESG is not the first first school using AI that way, as the IE Business School in Madrid uses an "emotion recognition system" to spot inattentive students.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/nestor-ai-paris-inattentive-students/

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Windows metadata bug has been waiting to cripple older machines

As Ars Technica points out, it's a metadata file that exists in the root directory of the OS' NTFS file system. When something tries using it, like a malicious website accessed through Internet Explorer in this case, the NTFS driver never releases its lock on the file. This in turn blocks other legitimate processes from accessing the file system.

From here, every program trying to access any type of file will start to hang and you can see where this is going. Now, this type of vulnerability isn't new (older versions of Windows had similar responses calls for c:concon), and neither is the fix. Simply reboot your machine and you should be good to go.

Microsoft is aware of the problem, but isn't going to fix the bug in Windows Vista. Considering that Redmond is still supporting Windows 7 and Windows 8 there may be a patch coming, though. We've reached out for more information and will update this post should it arrive.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/05/26/windows-7-vista-8-vulnerability/

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