Posts tagged Technology
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.
As much as I find reading eBooks quick and convenient there’s something about the authority of a hefty hardback that really attracts me.
While inky words on reams wood-pulp paper might have a whiff of the past, Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable – the pages of which I’ve been thumbing through and scribbling upon over the past week – tastes very much of the future.
Kelly’s forthright views and predictions on the inevitable forces that shape our lives by 2046 are honed from a lifetime chasing the red rag of technology’s bleeding edge. They are rooted in humility, however, grounded by a confession that he hasn’t a clue what technologies are coming next. But then again, nobody does:
Most of the important technologies that will dominate life 30 years from now have not yet been invented.
Instead the Wired co-founder concerns himself with describing the twelve technological forces that will define humanity’s what’s next.
Confession time: as of writing this I’ve not finished reading the whole book, instead diving between chapters. That The Inevitable supports this is to its credit, each trend depicted is sufficiently standalone in substance.
Of those I’ve digested ‘Cognifying’ impacts the most, breaking down the monolithic AI concept into the tangible ways artificial intelligence and augmented intelligence will become commoditised and work with us, alongside us in our everyday. Kelly steers well clear of the graver questions around technological singularly – his tone is optimistic, genuine concerns well masked if they exist.
As well as reading Kevin’s fascinating thoughts I’m thrilled to be hosting an audience with Kevin at the annual Supernova digital marketing event in London on November 18th 2016. During our fireside chat we’ll be discussing some of the key themes in the book – artificial intelligence in particular, and what accelerated change catalysed by technology means for entrepreneurs and businesses, consumers and society.
Later on in the day Team GB Olympic gold medalists Laura Kenny (née Trott) and Jason Kenny OBE will also be on stage with Olympian-turned-coach Paul Manning to give an insight into how British cycling’s data-driven approach yielded so many medal-winning performances at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
There are panel sessions throughout the day too with leading figures from the technology, media and telecoms industries as well as motoring and advertising who will be revealing insights on consumer trends, online behaviours, and how businesses can embrace innovation in the digital world.
Find out more and register on the Quantcast Supernova website.
Among the topics I cover in this series of Rip Off Britain: Live on BBC1 is speech recognition. In Tuesday’s show I went to Liverpool to investigate how viewers are talking to their tech to help make their everyday lives easier.
According to researchers at Stanford University we can talk three times faster – and with 20% more accuracy – than we can type or swipe on a mobile phone.
Proof that it’s good to talk, right?
It was no surprise, however, to find that many I spoke with were initially sceptical about the effectiveness of speech recognition. But I had a hunch that their lack of confidence was misplaced, with judgements on poor comprehension based on older generations of the technology.
Our day of filming in and around Liverpool proved my point: I found that Apple’s intelligent personal assistant Siri was better than even I was at comprehending commands, irrespective of accent or background noise.
Speech recognition technology – and Siri is far from the only or even the best example at present – has now reached a level of useful maturity. What is needed next to help more to benefit from it is further accessibility and behavioural change.
In the main Rip Off Britain series in September I also took a look at how voice biometrics are being used by major service providers as an authentication factor to make logins to our online accounts safer, simpler and more secure.
Check out further clips from this series of Rip Off Britain here on the BBC website.
Watchdog Wednesdays continues on BBC Three and in this week’s film I investigate how easily a criminal can hack a public Wi-Fi hotspot and compromise its users’ personal information.
Coffee shops, high streets and hotels increasingly offer free public Wi-Fi so visitors can sync up while they eat, shop or stay. However, as I’ve reported on before, Wi-Fi hotspots are easy to spoof, are frequently unsecured, and even when there is a password there is still no guarantee of safety.
Hacking the Hotspot
So, in a controlled experiment at a central London coffee shop, I set out to see what the hackers see. What I saw when the Watchdog cameras began rolling surprised even me:
— BBC Three (@bbcthree) April 20, 2016
With very little investment in time or equipment I learnt how to intercept traffic sent between users’ devices laptops, smartphones, tablets and the internet.
Just to be clear – I am not a hacker, I’m a journalist, but picking up the basics was worryingly easy.
The Man in the Middle
My attack (known as a ‘Man in the Middle‘ attack by ARP poisoning) targeted only a single device operated by a member of the BBC crew. It could equally have targeted a number of devices, perhaps all logged in to the Wi-Fi hotspot.
I found unencrypted traffic easily visible, plain text usernames and passwords flashed before my eyes in real time — gold dust for a hacker — and webpage images appeared on my hacktop just as they did on the victim’s machine. I was even able to work around some (but not all) websites’ attempts to enforce HTTPS security.
plain text usernames and passwords flashed before my eyes in real time — gold dust for a hacker
I was shocked that supposedly secure websites such as John Lewis, ebay and Amazon were vulnerable to this basic attack on an iPad, along with email accounts that didn’t have SSL security enabled. Facebook and Twitter didn’t fall for the hack.
Are we really aware of how easy it is for data we send over the airwaves to be intercepted by a silent criminal? I suspect not. This is a perfect crime where victims are unaware that their details have been compromised until the criminal executes his hack hours, days or weeks later when emails get intercepted, accounts get hijacked and funds go missing.
There’s nothing here that’s difficult to get hold of:
- Sony Vaio laptop
- External USB antenna
- Kali Linux operating system
- Tools including Wireshark, sslstrip, ettercap, driftnet
I should add that none of the software used here was illegal; Kali Linux and its bundled utilities are open source, promoted as ‘penetration testing and ethical hacking’ software and is used by security professionals to ensure their corporate networks and public websites remain secure to hackers. Of course, the very same software may also be used by hackers for malicious means. And then, of course, there is YouTube – there’s any number of tutorials here to help you get to grips with the tools and utilities mentioned above.
Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Hotspots
So there’s the scare story. But what can you do stay safe when on public WiFi?
- For light browsing I prefer to bring my own network and tether from my smartphone or Mi-Fi, but my data plan is generous (and yes, expensive) to allow for that; if cellular reception is poor it’s painfully slow or impossible.
- A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is my next security measure – this creates a secure ‘tunnel’ between my laptop, tablet or smartphone and a server elsewhere on the internet into which a fraudster cannot eavesdrop. These can be free, fairly cheap or you can even build your own.
- If all else fails I make sure that websites I exchange data with support safe browsing, denoted by HTTPS and the green padlock (but beware that tools like ‘sslstrip’ can subvert this). I do not ignore errors from the web browser which talk about invalid certificates, even if I don’t understand exactly what they mean – I can visit those websites later when I’m on a secure connection.
How secure are apps? How do you know whether they’re secure if there’s no green padlock or HTTPS visible in an address bar? In my testing I found some apps that are blatantly not secure broadcasting personal details, but I’ll be exploring this in more detail very soon.
Around this time I’m often asked what I think will be the big technology trends for the coming year. This time I thought it would make sense to get my thoughts together and share them on my YouTube channel.
As it happened the first opportunity I had to do this was while I was in Las Vegas for CES – rather aptly, the world’s largest technology show.
So, in no particular order, my top tech predictions for the year ahead:
- Virtual Reality – 2016 is the year VR takes its biggest steps yet into the mainstream. Off the back of major investments and acquisitions by some of consumer technology’s largest firms, this year sees long-awaited releases from the likes of Sony (PlayStation VR), Facebook (Oculus Rift), HTC (HTC Vive). Virtual reality becomes actual reality this year, and Christmas 2016 will be a key battleground.
- Biometrics – If the high-profile hacks and data breaches of 2015 taught us anything it’s that username and passwords are broken. Biometric authentication – whether fingerprint, retina or even voice – will continue to grow in 2016.
- Mobile Payments – Apple Pay, Android Pay and more please – I for one am hoping it’s all change for loose change this year as these payment systems expand beyond premium devices into the mid-range. And while BitCoin took a bit of a battering in 2015, the underlying block chain technology is what is piquing the interesting of many mainstream players.
- Internet of Things – Embedding everyday objects with computing power and connectivity; connecting people with their possessions and their possessions with one another (I may have unwittingly borrowed, condensed or paraphrased those definitions from others over the years). I really hope we stop talking about IoT in 2016 and start seeing it instead – more everyday stuff getting connected (notwithstanding safety concerns – VTech et al). A little less IoT conversation, a little more IoT action please.
- Drones – in the beginning drones were about fun: the category breakthrough device was the 2010 Parrot AR.Drone, an augmented reality gaming device (hence the AR); however, the French firm soon realised the onboard camera was what got everybody excited and so the drone photography and videography revolution began. However, the next revolution here will be about non-camera payloads – how drones (eg Amazon delivery drones are a, ahem, Prime example) are able to carry small packages further and further.
The YouTube video was picked up by ITN Productions tech show N2K and cut into one of the January episodes – I haven’t seen the show yet but will be sure to share here when I do.
I rather enjoyed compiling my 2016 predictions, so I plan to do a debrief later in the year to see how close to the mark I’ve been, then to try again with my top tech trends for 2017.
CES – or the International Consumer Electronics Show to give its full name – is in full swing and I’m here in Las Vegas making some sense of the tech gifts we’ll be unwrapping in Christmas 2016 and beyond.
As expected virtual reality, unmanned aerial vehicles (okay, drones), connected home/internet of things and wearables are all well represented here, as is the motoring industry with major announcements on driverless cars, electric vehicles and more from the likes of Ford, Toyota and newcomer Faraday Future.
Here’s a quick hit of one of my live reports for the Mark Forrest show on BBC radio broadcast midway through press day:
September is one of the busiest periods in the technology calendar as manufacturers race to announce and release the consumer products they hope will make their Christmas a happy one.
Not only a great time of year to be working in technology but a great time to be reporting on it too. Over the last few weeks I’ve joined the technology desk at International Business Times UK to report on breaking news from Apple, Samsung, Sony and more.
Alongside announcements of new smartphones, tablets and watches I wrote about topics as diverse as Virtual Reality video and fallen enterprise mobile player Blackberry and its attempts to remain relevant.
However, I want to share a couple of video stories here. First up is my bite-sized take on the major announcements at IFA 2015:
New smartphone announcements by Apple are a highlight for many tech-watchers but, frankly, they do go on a bit. I produced an extremely cut-down version of the Apple press conference revealing everything you need to know in roughly three minutes – saving you about an hour and forty minutes of your life.