This week I appeared on BBC1’s The One Show sharing advice on how parents can help their children to develop healthy habits when using smartphones and tablets.
I’m a dad, and like most parents, I feel as if I’m making it up as I go along – which, of course, I am. How I introduce my children to technology is no exception.
Understanding a little about how children develop, what their needs are at different ages, and how easily influenced they are by adults around them, can all help make sure that children – and their parents – have a happy relationship with gadgets.
Technology offers amazing opportunities but, for me, the old adage that ‘too much of a good thing is a bad thing’ stands as true with smartphones and tablets as it does with anything else.
The One Show is on BBC1 at 7pm most evenings, viewers in the UK with a television licence can watch here.
It’s London Tech Week 2017 and all week I’m fronting Tech TV, the festival’s official broadcast channel.
Based at London Tech Week’s flagship event, TechXLR8, I am interviewing inspiring industry leaders, getting hands-on with some cutting-edge tech and…
…watching people fly around in jetpacks:
Richard Browning, the founder of Gravity, built the rocket man suit with the help of friends over eighteen months and is already a world record holder with it. Richard spoke live on the main stage at #LTW before heading outside and giving us a demo.
Now in its fourth year, London Tech Week showcases the capital’s bustling technology scene, bringing together cutting-edge developments in 5G, VR and AR, AI and Machine Learning, Connected and Driverless Cars, and more.
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 Bloomberg, ‘soil 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.
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.
Last week, I was working with the RTÉ team at MoJoCon in Galway, Ireland. For the event’s live-streamed interviews, RTÉ set up a multi-camera TV studio. But, being MoJoCon, there was one major twist…
MoJoCon brings together broadcasters, journalists, filmmakers and social media specialists from around the world. Now in its third year, the event explores how new technologies – from smartphones to 360-degree cameras – are revolutionising the way we tell stories on television and online.
As was appropriate for a show focusing on mobile tech and the media, the RTÉ pop-up TV studio from which we live-streamed our interviews was powered by mobile.
It’s an impressive setup: the five studio cameras were Apple iPhone 6s plus smartphones, each kitted with superb quality Zeiss ExoLens lenses mounted on a Helium Core iPhone Rig; the vision mixing and encoding was handled by Teradek Live:Air running on an Apple iPad Pro 12.9 tablet.
For day-long power and belts and braces connectivity, the devices were hard-wired to Ethernet, although a wireless setup is perfectly possible too. I would say the only non-mobile component of the studio was the sound: traditional XLR-connected lavalier mics supplied a standard mixing desk, the master output of which fed into one of the mobile devices from which the Teradek software took its audio feed.
Here’s a clip from the end of day two where my co-host, the lovely Róisín Ní Thomáin, and I embarked on a quick studio tour.
Over two days of the show, Róisín and I interviewed some inspiring broadcasters, journalists and innovators including BBC Sport’s Conor McNamara, Story-Up’s Sarah Hill and Video Journalist Michael Rosenblum. The topics we covered were as broad as How to be an App Store Millionnaire, to The Evolution of 360, VR and AR Storytelling.
Each Spring The Photography Show lands at the Birmingham NEC and I’m thrilled to front its coverage of live streams and video. For four days each year I get hands-on with amazing cameras and kit, and interview some of the world’s most influential photographers. For four days I am in camera heaven.
Over the last couple of years I’ve spoken with the likes of David Bailey, Sebastiao Salgado, Clive Arrowsmith and – personal hero – Chris Packham:
The Photography Show also shines a light on new talent, those pushing boundaries of stills and video, sharing what it takes to be successful on the social media stage. Following his presentation at the Super Stage this year I spoke with filmmaker and Instagrammer Louis Cole about an exciting upcoming project:
This year, for the first time, The Photography Show also broadcast to Facebook Live, taking to the floor to bring the show to a new audience. Here’s an interview where I speak to the creators of Palette, an innovative modular tool for editors.
Tickets for The Photography Show 2018 go on sale from The Photography Show website, dates are 17-20th March.
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…
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…
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.
Less 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.