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The Metro

Flashy Tech in Metro: Li-Fi

In today’s Metro tech section I shed some light on Li-Fi, a flashy new wireless tech that uses your living room light to help you browse safer and faster.

In a nutshell, Li-Fi is just like Wi-Fi except it uses visible light from domestic LED light bulbs to carry data, instead of invisible radio waves from a Wi-Fi router. As I put it in the Metro story, think Morse code on steroids.

Of course, using visible light does raise a few questions: many of us do not have our lights switched on during the day, some of our connected devices may sit under a desk in the dark, and rapid flashing or flickering is known to provoke headaches or worse.

I spoke with Professor Harald Haas, the luminary behind Li-Fi (here’s his TED talk on Li-Fi), who is well-practised at batting away these concerns as well as speaking of the technology’s benefits in terms of security, speed and even health:

Metro Li-Fi

Professor Haas is the co-founder of pureLiFi, the Edinburgh firm attempting to turn the technology into a viable commercial proposition. Its latest product, the pureLiFi-XC, features a USB adapter the size of a thumb drive with drivers certified for Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS and Linux. Android and iOS smartphones and tablets are not supported yet, but pureLiFi hopes one day its technology will be embedded into all devices, just as to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are now.

Li-Fi-enabling our light bulbs may prove more of a stumbling block, however. Each LED light that supplies a wireless data stream must be controlled by a Li-Fi access point which, in turn, must be network-connected. pureLifi may need to provide more ingenious ways to minimise the friction of installation if it is to muscle-in on Wi-Fi’s patch, particularly if it is to make waves in the domestic sector.

Nevertheless, if growth in connected smart-home and internet of things devices means that demand for radio frequency bandwidth exceeds availability – the so-called ‘spectrum crunch‘ – then technologies like Li-Fi will certainly have a place in our homes and offices of the future.

Metro - Vinyl Revival

Metro – Vinyl Revival

In this week’s Metro newspaper I share my top turntable picks.

The ‘vinyl revival‘ is a term coined to describe the resurgent interest in records and record players that dominated the musical youths of me and many others over 35. In fact, record sales recently hit a 25-year high.

Technically obsolete behind the CD, MP3 and now online streaming services, vinyl has nevertheless maintained mindshare with those who value the tangible side of owning music – not least the album art – alongside the much vaunted ‘warmth‘ vinyl brings. Indisputably, nostalgia plays a big part of this; cost and convenience? Perhaps not so much.

Metro - Vinyl Revival

I can tell you that the first 7-inch singles I bought were You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon and For America by Red Box (wasn’t 1986 a great year?), but they were pre-dated in our house by shelves of my parents‘ discs – an eclectic mix of folk, country and pop, plus Hancock‘s Half Hour radio comedies like The Blood Donor and (my favourite) The Radio Ham.

Computer Weekly

Where Emerging Technology and Business IT Intersect

I’ve been a Computer Weekly contributor for a while, peppering the venerable title with the occasional review, opinion piece and even video.

Well, I have now fully grabbed the reigns of its Inspect-a-Gadget column, where my remit will be regular stories covering where emerging technology and business IT intersect. Or, less elegantly, what the latest gadgets and consumer tech mean for the workplace.

Among my recent stories there, I have looked at how the all-new Bluetooth 5 standard ups the ante for the Internet of Things, got an early hands-on with the QWERTY-equipped BlackBerry KEYone smartphone, and visited London Tech Week to meet a UK startup that claims to have cracked Siri for the office:

Earlier this week, I began looking at some new entries to Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2017.

Keep an eye out for new stories on the Computer Weekly Inspect-a-Gadget column or head over to my Twitter feed.

Tech vs Trolls: The Economics of Online Abuse

In today’s Metro, I ask how the tech firms are tackling online abuse.

Despite the efforts of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, many of the internet’s most popular destinations remain troubled by trolls.

When the trolls are in town, popular social platforms become unpleasant, unsocial places, not a carefree online destination to catch up with family and friends.

Some of those accused may claim they are exercising free-speech, but that doesn’t wash if the intent is to cause alarm or distress. Hurling abuse at somebody isn’t free speech, it’s hurling abuse at somebody.

So, isn’t it high time that tech firms stepped up their game to tackle the online abuse that runs riot on their platforms?

That’s what I examine in How tech is tackling trolls: how artificial intelligence, machine learning and image recognition are being deployed to disarm the trolls who terrorise the web.

However, there’s another angle to this that I’d like briefly to expand upon here: social networks need to tackle online abuse not only for their users’ sakes but for their investors’.

You see, for online social platforms driven by advertising – which is most of them – it is impossible to ignore the economics of trolling.

Economics of Trolling

Social networks are based on the principle that we humans are social creatures who like to express ourselves. The more we share, the more the networks know about us, and the more able they are to sell targeted advertising (ads that are, in theory, more relevant to us) on behalf of their partners.

Overall, it’s a happy relationship, and the numbers speak for themselves: almost 2 billion of us log in to Facebook every month to share status updates, likes and photos, from which it made almost $10 billion in 2016.

However, fear of unsocial behaviour on social platforms makes us more reluctant to express ourselves online; the less we share, the less they know and the less we visit, so the more it hurts the online platform’s ad revenues. The likes of Facebook and Twitter make nothing if we’re too afraid to use them.

Facebook and Twitter make nothing if we’re too afraid to use them

Twitter: We Suck

There are other ways in which the economics of online abuse can hurt too. Last year, Disney dropped its plans to buy Twitter over concerns that widespread trolling and bullying on the platform might, according to Bloombergsoil the company’s wholesome family image.

Months before, Twitter boss Dick Costolo wrote, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls,” adding “It’s no secret, and the rest of the world talks about it every day.”

It does: just ask Leslie Jones, Katie Price, Zelda Williams, Katie Price, and countless others who have made the news after leaping from the toxic platform, having unwittingly stirred the trolls’ nest.

Sound Investment

So, clamping down on unsocial behaviour is an obvious investment for businesses that rely on us being socially generous.

As I explore in the Metro feature, technology can go some way to weeding out abuse, but the trouble with automated tools is where the boundaries blur between abuse and robust argument. Even human moderators struggle with this and, for a while yet in my opinion, it’s likely AIs will too.

The Metro

Metro Connect: HACKcess All Areas?

In today’s Metro I investigate whether the CIA really can ‘hackcess all areas’. Plus, I ask if wearable tech has fallen from fashion. Hold on tight, it’s time to Connect…
Is Your TV Spying On You?

Last week’s WikiLeaks document dump professes to reveal how the CIA has – with help from agencies including MI5 – been collecting and developing an arsenal of hacking tools, exploits and cyber skeleton keys to pick its way into the devices we use every day.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Covert surveillance is a tool widely used by intelligence agencies to maintain national security and counter terrorism.

But if the good guys can find a backdoor into our connected kit, surely the bad guys can too? Read on in the Metro e-edition…

Wearables Watch

The Apple Watch launched less than two years ago. I know this because on the day of the launch I confidently declared that ‘wearable tech is the next big thing’ on stage at the Gadget Show Live, enthusing about the upcoming Pebble Time smartwatch and the latest Jawbone and Fitbit gear.

How times change.

Wear NextLess than two years on and the wearables phenomenon has failed to catch on, leading analysts to rein in their optimism.

Back to the Apple Watch.

Many – myself included – saw the launch of Apple’s highly-anticipated wearable as a watershed moment. Indeed it was, but rather than sparking a wearables revolution it had the opposite effect. ‘Oh, is that it?’, was the consensus.

However, as Bill Gates once quipped, we tend to over-estimate the impact of a technology in its first two years but underestimate its impact in ten. It might be in the depths of the trough of disillusionment but I can’t see anything other than wearable tech to playing a huge part in our future.

Last week I was at the Wearable Technology Show in London to see how the latest wearable devices are looking to make an impact sooner rather than later…

The Metro

Fantastic Visual Effects and Where to Find Them

In today’s Metro I embark on a tour of Soho to see how London’s Oscar-winning visual effects firms are lighting up cinema screens around the world.

Visual Effects Feature in The Metro

Central London is home to many of the movie world’s most innovative visual effects firms. With the 89th Academy Awards this Sunday I wanted to understand more about what goes into making VFX-heavy Hollywood films.

In researching the feature I spoke to Foundry co-founder Simon Robinson. His company’s software titles Nuke, Mari and Katana are used by post-production houses the world over – in fact, every film nominated for a best VFX Oscar in the last six years has used its software.

I also spoke with Matt Fox, joint MD for film at Framestore; his team worked on year’s Best VFX Oscar nominee Doctor Strange as well as 2013’s six-time Oscar winner Gravity.

As well as talking technology I also learnt about the immense manpower required to turn around a typical movie, and ethics around the digital character resurrection that saw Peter Cushing and Paul Walker brought back to life for the big screen.

The 2017 Oscars take place this Sunday 26th February 2017, with five films nominated for Best Visual Effects: Doctor Strange, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Deepwater Horizon, The Jungle Book, and Kubo and the Two Strings.

Read the full story in the Metro e-edition here.

 

Alexa: How to secure my Amazon Echo?

My feature on how to secure your Amazon Echo was published in TechRadar last week. Here is my take on why securing these intelligent home hubs is of vital importance.

Muting your Amazon Echo

Hear no Evil? Muting your Amazon Echo (Credit: Flickr / Rob Albright / CC BY-NC 2.0)

Voice-activated intelligent virtual assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home are starting to play an important role as the hub of our connected homes.

Buttons are obsolete. Simply by conversing with my Alexa I can control my central heating and the lighting around my house and garden; I can buy products with my voice, check my personal calendar, set alarms or reminders, update my things to do list, read my favourite book or play any song, album or playlist on Spotify. With my voice.

Hear no Evil

The convenience this offers is staggering and, in a little over three months since I plugged it in and powered it on, my Amazon Echo has already changed many behaviours in our household. For the better? I think so. However…

With convenience comes compromise, especially when it comes to security. We should never be blinded by the utility of any new piece of technology.

I made one mistake in extolling the virtues of our Amazon Echo above. You see, all of these amazing things and more can be commanded not only with my voice, they can be asked by anybody’s voice.

Voice Recognition versus Speech Recognition

While Alexa has enviable speech recognition – the ability to understand and interpret natural language input by speech – she has yet to learn the skill of voice recognition. Often confused, voice recognition is the ability to uniquely distinguish between different people’s voices by analysing physical and behavioural characteristics.

With voice recognition Alexa would know whether it was me (ie authorised) ordering that Nintendo Switch console from Amazon Prime, or if it was my Mario Kart-loving daughter trying her luck (sorry, denied). Did I just ask Alexa for a 2am alarm call or was somebody outside my living room window attempting to play a prank?

Amazon has no plans to introduce voice recognition into the Amazon Echo just yet. Nevertheless, there are steps that Echo owners can take to make sure they enjoy the convenience of a virtual assistant without the worry of being woken up by a 2am prank alarm call.

Pop over to TechRadar to read my 8 top tips to lock down your Alexa.

First look: Nintendo Switch

It’s a familiar tale: any time I once made to play Metal Gear Solid, Pro Evolution Soccer or PaRappa the Rapper has long since been eroded by the glamours of parenthood and an erratic work schedule. Mario Kart Wii still gets spun up, as much of an occasional treat for me as it is for my kids.

I am the ‘lapsed gamer’.

On-the-go Gamer

But I do still play games. Armed with my smartphone or tablet, pocket puzzlers like the stunning Monument Valley, gory graphic novel epics such as The Walking Dead or riddlers including Mr Robot help ensure that train platform dead-time can still be game-time.

I’ve yet to tire of exploring new places with Pokémon Go, and I stand firm that the Swift Playgrounds lessons are every bit as satisfying as a good Sudoku puzzle – plus I get to learn a valuable skill.

I am the ‘on-the-go gamer’. Living the smartphone gaming dream I am part of the fastest area of revenue growth in the games industry.

So, when Nintendo formally announced its latest console last Friday I wondered if it was an attempt to appeal to gamers like me.

Nintendo Switch

Will gamers make the Nintendo Switch? (image: Nintendo)

Nintendo Switch is a hybrid tablet/TV games console, as comfortable in your hands as it is hooked up to your television. Accompanying the hardware is a strong first year line-up of titles including new the Zelda Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey adventures.

Switch Coverage

But the big question is whether Nintendo has given itself enough of a fighting chance with the Switch to emerge from the shadow of the debacle that was the Wii U, to overcome the console behemoths that are Microsoft and Sony, and to take on the smartphone gaming market.

That was the topic of the story I wrote this week for Mobile World Live: “Will Nintendo fanboys make the Switch?”.

After going hands on with the Nintendo Switch at the London launch event, including playing the new fun fighting game Arms, I headed over to BBC Broadcasting House to report back for two live spots with the BBC News Channel and BBC World News:

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