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Windows 10’s Xbox bar helps you find and share games

The feature is young, and won't work with every game in full-screen mode. Titles based on the close-to-the-metal Vulkan graphics standard might need to run in a window before the Xbox bar displays. Microsoft acknowledged that the tool is in the "early stages," though, and is receptive to feedback that could improve the experience.

The Xbox Game Bar isn't likely there just for convenience. Microsoft is very cloud-focused these days, and recently expanded Xbox Live's reach to include mobile devices. The overlay could give you more reasons to stick to Microsoft's ecosystem and, eventually, sign up for its game streaming service. In that light, this is partly a challenge to Steam.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/windows-10-xbox-game-bar/

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Crowdfunded gaming console Ouya will shut down for good on June 25th

The rather unceremonious shut down of Ouya isn't what its backers were expecting when they funded the project back in 2012. By promising a console that was affordable and easy to develop for, the creators of Ouya managed to generate a huge wave of support. The Android-powered gaming console was funded on Kickstarter just eight hours after going live and eventually managed to raise $8.5 million, making it one of Kickstarter's most supported projects ever.

While Ouya did end up delivering a console, the final product couldn't live up to the hype. The controller felt cheap and was difficult to use and the console suffered from some performance issues that made games a pain to play at times. Despite the open ethos that invited anyone to develop games for the console, there ended up being too few truly engaging games to keep people's interest.

Just two years after officially launching in 2013, Ouya was bought up by gaming accessories maker Razer. Hardware sales of the console stopped and Razer rolled Ouya's gaming content into its Forge TV set-top box platform. Now, with Razer officially discontinuing support for Forge TV, Ouya is going down with the ship.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/ouya-kickstarter-console-shut-down-june-25-razer/

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Why putting googly eyes on robots makes them inherently less threatening

"As we approach the completion of the rollout, we continue to be pleased by the addition of Marty in our stores," a Giant Food rep told Engadget via email. "Our associates are appreciative of the assistance Marty provides them, freeing them up to do other tasks and interact more with customers. Speaking of our customers, they too are big fans of Marty, with kids and adults alike looking for Marty in store and taking selfies."

But Marty's googly eyes don't just give customers something to chuckle at as they pass one another in the cereal aisle. Research shows that slapping peepers on inanimate objects puts the humans around them at ease, and encourages them to be more generous and pro-social (as opposed to anti-social) than they normally would.

"People pay attention to the presence of eyes," Dr. Amrisha Vaish, Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia's Department of Psychology, told Engadget. "Humans are very sensitive to the presence of other people and we behave more socially in the presence of other people." It's called the "watching eye paradigm" and exploits the deep-seated human trait of needing to be valued within society. Managing our reputations and being seen by those around us as team players.

"In the course of our evolution, it's been really important for us to be to cooperate with others," Vaish points out. Interpersonal cooperation has proven "so important to the evolution of the human species that we've become really sensitive to even sort of minimal cues of eyes," she continued.

Dr. Pawan Sinha, Professor of Vision and Computational Neuroscience at MIT, concurs. "If one were to find an ecological reason why we are so attuned to see faces it's because the ability to detect faces is crucial for our social well being and, when we are young, it's crucial to our survival to be able to detect a specific human and be able to orient towards them," he told Engadget. "It's very important for us to be able to live our lives as social beings."

Vaish's own research in this field, specifically the 2018 study Eyes, More Than Other Facial Features, Enhance Real-World Donation Behavior, bears out this effect. Vaish and her team alternated photographs of a chair, a nose, a mouth and a pair of human eyes above the donation jar at a local children's museum over the course of 28 weeks. The weeks where the eyes were displayed saw an average total donation of $27 -- around $12 more than when the other images were shown.

"What we found is that the eyes -- compared to the chairs -- did, in fact, increase people's donations," Vaish explained. "The numbers weren't huge but there was a statistically significant increase."

This effect extends beyond actions like donations, the watching eye paradigm can also reduce antisocial behavior like littering and bike theft. It also affects people of all ages. "As young as five years of age, children become sensitive to being watched." Vaish said. "When a peer is watching them, they show more prosocial behavior and less antisocial, less stealing behavior."

The effect does not last forever, however. Vaish notes that in her previous research position, she found that putting a picture of eyes near the communal supply of milk drastically reduced the rate at which people would help themselves to it. At least to start.

"Initially, they're very striking when you put them up, and then you sort of start to monitor your behavior more," she explained. However, over time, people became accustomed to the presence of these watching eyes before eventually sliding back into complacency with regards to their milk intake.

This intra-office phenomenon illustrates an unusual aspect of humanity's evolution: we can see faces (and assign agency) to almost anything. "People look for certain specific cues, physical features or behaviors, to determine whether something is alive," Dr. Erin Horowitz, Lecturer at the University of California, Santa Barbara's Department of Psychological and Brain Science, told Engadget. "So something that appears to move on its own, people tend to process it as alive."

This is an ancient prey response in humans, instilled within us over countless generations before we arrived at the top of the food chain. It's better to see the leopard that isn't there, Horowitz summarized, than to not see the leopard that is. As such, even highly abstracted and stylized depictions of eyes can trigger this response. "You could have two dots next to each other and those would be considered eyes," Horowitz said, "if there's, say, a line underneath that looks like a mouth."

And it's "not just identifying predators," she points out, "but also identifying potential people that we can cooperate and interact with." These hardwired evolutionary responses and visceral need for social bonds has led to the development of the "theory of mind."

"You can think of it as a broad term for research on human capacity for social engagement," Dr. Tamsin German, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara's Department of Psychological and Brain Science, told Engadget. "Specifically, those ones that talk about the concepts we have of people's internal, hidden mental states."

"People believe things, people want things, people hope things," she continued. "And those internal states predict the behaviors that they will engage in." By piecing together a person's behavior and explaining it in terms of those hidden states, one can glimpse at the motivations and underlying beliefs of that person. "it's a critically important skill for humans being such a social species," German said.

As it turns out, slapping googly eyes on a roving robotic monolith like Marty can elicit the same response from humans, even when we know the object is not actually alive. But there are limits to this effect and surprisingly the Uncanny Valley exists for robot eyes as well.

German notes that a wide variety of prey species have evolved agency-granting responses similar to humans, "there is lots of work suggesting that they have a sensitivity to two eyes looking directly at them." But in Rhesus Macaques, how those eyes are presented makes all the difference.

She points to a recent study out of Princeton University, which placed various photographs and stylized, abstracted depictions of Macaque faces in front of real Macaques. "The Rhesus Macaque will look a lot at highly stylized, cartoony pictures of other faces of Rhesus monkeys. And they look a lot at actual photographs of Rhesus monkeys" she explained. "But if you have very, very close, but not quite images, they don't like them at all." As with humans, being almost there -- but not quite -- is interpreted as a negative signal.

A similar effect can be seen when humans observe the movements of robots, androids, and other people. German references a recent multinational study wherein subjects were shown static images of clearly mechanical robots, natural humans, and androids like what you'd see at the Disney World Hall of Presidents.

"You put them in an fMRI scanner, and just essentially, allow the brain to acclimate to what it's seeing," she said. Then, "using a technique called predictive coding, you look at which parts of the brain are excited when [the object in the image] starts moving. Essentially, asking the brain to tell you what it didn't expect."

When the robot starts clunking around in a very mechanical fashion and the human moves smoothly, researchers noted only slight electrical responses from the brain. "But the Android looks like a human and moves like a robot in various areas of the brain kind of a more active compared to a baseline, suggesting that the brain didn't see what it predicts," German explained.

This is what elicits the uneasiness and trepidation in people when they interact with a machine in the Uncanny Valley. It's 200,000 years of evolution going, "Hey stupid, this thing is moving when it shouldn't be (at least not moving or looking like it should be). You need to scram before you get eaten."

But adding eyes, even if they're of the googly variety, appears to help mitigate this effect by exploiting our social nature to artificially instill a sense of agency towards these inanimate objects.

"It's just a signal that this is an animate thing, it's going to have mental states and -- provided you're not trying to you make it look so realistic, where the movement that it engages in looks wrong -- you're not going to get an uncanny valley effect," German concluded.

Images: Tim Flach via Getty Images (Human Eye); Newcastle University (warning sign); luxiangjian4711 via Getty Images (monkey)

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/googly-eyes-on-robots/

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Amazon investors reject call to limit facial recognition system sales

Law enforcement agencies in Florida and Oregon have already piloted Rekognition, while Amazon reportedly pitched the system to ICE. Amazon and Microsoft have both called for government oversight of facial recognition, while San Francisco banned the tech this month. Meanwhile, protestors and Amazon employees demonstrated outside the meeting.

Amid a number of non-binding votes, shareholders also rejected a proposal for Amazon to commission an independent report on the impact of government use of Rekognition. Amazon's board had urged investors to vote against both proposals. As TechCrunch notes, the votes seemed doomed from the outset. CEO Jeff Bezos holds 12 percent of stock as well as the voting control on his ex-wife's shares. Amazon's top four institutional shareholders have roughly the same combined voting rights as Bezos.

Shareholders voted down all the other proposals put forward at the meeting, including a request for the company to detail its efforts on how it addresses "hate speech and the sale of offensive products throughout its businesses." They rejected a call for Amazon to produce a report on its carbon footprint and fossil fuel use, along with how it's tackling climate change.

Investors also declined to back a measure urging Amazon to change how it reports gender pay disparities. Board directors recommended that shareholders vote against all of those measures. A filing laying out tallies for each of the votes is expected on Friday.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/amazon-facial-recognition-law-enforcement-shareholders-climate-change/

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Atari shows off joystick and controller for its retro VCS console

According to Atari, the Classic Joystick is "designed to capture the spirit and functionality" of the CX40, but it now has Bluetooth and USB connectivity. The center stick is fully digital, and its default settings map to the D-pad on contemporary gamepad controllers. It also rotates so you can play games like Pong, Breakout and Night Driver, which were previously better suited for Paddle Controllers. The team also added a rumble feature and swapped the red lights for orange.

The Classic Joystick brings a few changes to the "fire" button, too. For starters, you'll notice a second trigger button placed on the corner of the unit body. You'll be able to tap it with a finger, on either the right or left side, and it will work more like a front bumper button on a modern gamepad. Atari made the design decision to be more ergonomic and to spare gamers' thumbs.

The team introduced fewer changes to the VCS Modern Controller, sticking to the widely-accepted form-factor of controllers on the market. It's "a solid, reliable performer and it should please VCS owners, or anyone looking for a high quality, stylish Bluetooth/USB controller for PC and mobile gaming," the company said. As an added perk, like the Classic Joystick, the Modern Controller is fully re-mappable.

Atari VCS says the hardware is almost ready for final production, which would match previous statements that the console will be ready by the end of 2019. That should be a relief for fans, especially those that pre-ordered the device through an Indiegogo campaign one year ago and have patiently waited through delays.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/atari-vcs-details-classic-joystick-modern-controller/

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NASA wants you to get your boarding pass to Mars

The option is available to virtually anyone in the world and doesn't require more sensitive info than your email address. NASA cautions that your inclusion is "subject to review," so pranksters and spammers aren't guaranteed to get their names on the rover. You have until September 30th to participate.

NASA isn't shy about the motivations here: it's drumming up hype for its extraterrestrial missions, whether it's Mars exploration or its ambitious plan to return astronauts to the Moon. Regardless, it's hard not to get a little bit excited knowing that you'll have some kind of presence on Mars, even if it's purely symbolic.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/nasa-puts-names-on-mars-2020-rover/

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Lawmakers call for regulation of facial recognition tech

While the hearing closed without any concrete plan for regulations in place, it's clear that the idea of restricting the use of facial recognition technology -- especially by law enforcement agencies and other government organizations -- has a wide base of support. Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said members are considering enforcing a moratorium or an outright ban on the use of the technology until it can be further evaluated and improved.

In study after study, facial recognition technology has been found to be inaccurate. The FBI's database has been found to produce false positive 15 percent of the time and is especially inaccurate when attempting to identify women and minorities. Rekognition, a face analysis tool produced by Amazon, has similarly struggled to accurately identify people. A study conducted by MIT Media Lab found the company's software classified women as men one-fifth of the time and identified darker-skinned women as men in one out of every three tests. That was enough to encourage the city of San Francisco to ban the use of the technology in police body cameras and for the state of California to consider a similar, state-wide measure.

While that information gave lawmakers pause and has the considering strict regulations on facial recognition technology, it did not have the same dissuading effect on Amazon's shareholders. Earlier today, the company's investors rejected a proposal that would have limited Amazon's ability to sell facial recognition technology to law enforcement and government agencies.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/congress-committee-facial-recognition-tech-regulation/

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AR porn lenses live on in Snapchat despite ban

Naughty America created the lenses to peddle subscriptions to its family of sites. They brought some performers (with varying levels of clothing) to Snapchat's camera and let people place virtual porn stars in their own environments. The company's CEO Andreas Hronopoulos believed the lenses were permitted on the platform, as they weren't publicly available. Snapchat begged to differ and swiftly removed them, along with the studio's profile. It told Variety the lenses violated the terms of service, community guidelines and lens studio submission guidelines.

Now, Hronopoulos says Naughty America users are downloading the files and making their own versions of the lenses. It might be harder for Snapchat to track those variants down and remove them. It urges users to flag questionable material, and its systems can tell when lenses are becoming popular, perhaps prompting Snapchat's team to take a closer look. However, much in the way other platforms moderate potentially unsavory content, it seems Snapchat might have to take reactive rather than preventative measures if it wants to stamp out the lenses.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/snapchat-ar-lenses-porn-naughty-america/

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Airbus shares a glimpse of its flying taxi cockpit

The photos show the single seat inside Alpha Two. It looks like something you'd find in a video racing game at an arcade, but a bit more futuristic. From the cockpit, passengers will get an unobstructed view of the horizon -- there's no pilot to get in the way. There's also a single, high-definition screen, which will show information like the flight path. Another photo shows Alpha Two with its cabin hatch open, but it's not clear how passengers will actually get into the aircraft. Airbus says it envisions a platform or steps.

The company's initial flight tests have reportedly gone well, though the aircraft only hovered about 16 feet above the ground for a few seconds. But Vahana has more development and plenty of testing to do before it's ready for passenger flight. Still, just a few years ago, self-flying air taxis sounded far fetched, and today we have a pretty good idea of what they could look like.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/airbus-vahana-flying-taxi-interior/

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SpaceX sues over ‘wrongly awarded’ Air Force rocket contracts

The firm also pointed to other criteria that it thought should have put it out front, including its ability to lower costs and offer vehicles that are "commercially viable." Rivals, SpaceX argued, would have to "rely exclusively" on government contracts and thus drain taxpayer money. ULA was even going to rely on Russian rocket motors, defeating the government's goal of reducing dependence on Russian hardware. SpaceX further noted that Blue Origin and Northrop delayed their development schedules soon after winning their contracts, negating promises they made when they were vying for the Air Force's money.

On top of this, SpaceX said that it tried to dispute the awards through a neutral resolution process, but that the Air Force refused and provided only a vague, summarized rejection of the company's arguments. On top of this, the lawsuit accused officials of switching the criteria for the contract without giving SpaceX or others to respond.

If successful, the lawsuit would require the Air Force to halt investment, reevaluate the offers and potentially "make a new award decision" based on new terms.

In a statement, a SpaceX spokesperson told Engadget the company was fine with the Air Force continuing with the second phase of its rocket procurement process "as currently planned," but "respecfully disagrees" with the initial choice. The private spaceflight outfit was filing the lawsuit to "ensure a level playing field for competition," according to the spokesperson.

It's difficult to say if SpaceX's suit will succeed. While the lawsuit shows some reasons to believe SpaceX was the victim of an unfair process, critics might characterize the lawsuit as sour grapes -- it's mad that it lost out and wants to prevent its competitors from gaining the upper hand. The Air Force isn't likely to be receptive given that it already tossed out SpaceX's earlier pleas. Whoever's telling the truth, you can be sure that SpaceX will fight hard. Government contracts are a large part of its business, and losing even some of them could significantly hurt its bottom line.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/05/22/spacex-sues-over-air-force-contracts/

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