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Facebook’s flavour of the Moment

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When a billion human beings logged onto Facebook last Monday, it was just one landmark in the social network’s quest to connect humanity. For South Africans, another came just a day later, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When a billion people log on to your service in a single day, you know you’re having a massive impact on humanity. That’s one in seven people on the planet. But it also means that you have a huge challenge on your hands: how to keep them coming back, and how to keep improving their experience when they do come back.

Last Tuesday, the day after Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had reached a billion visitors in one day, Facebook introduced South Africans to a new service designed to enhance the sharing culture that is at the heart of the social network’s success.

Called Moments, it’s described as “a private way to share photos with friends”. It groups photos on one’s phone based on when they were taken, and uses facial recognition technology to identify the people in the photos. Friends can then synchronise from the same event, choosing with whom they want to share and sync. In the process they receive photos from the same event taken by those friends.

In a blog post when it was first launched in the United States in June, Moments product manager Will Ruben explained the thinking:

“With a phone at everyone’s fingertips, the moments in our lives are captured by a new kind of photographer: our friends. It’s hard to get the photos your friends have taken of you, and everyone always insists on taking that same group shot with multiple phones to ensure they get a copy. Even if you do end up getting some of your friends’ photos, it’s difficult to keep them all organized in one place on your phone.

“Syncing photos with the Moments app is a private way to give photos to friends and get the photos you didn’t take.”

As with most new Facebook products and services, Moments has been rolled out on a staggered basis, beginning in North America in June and finally reaching South Africa two months later.

“We’re excited to be launching it in many more countries around the world,” Ruben said in an interview this week. “It will also be translated into many more languages.”

A key aspect of Moments is that it is not integrated into Facebook itself, but is what Ruben describes as “a totally separate experience from the normal Facebook experience”. That’s because it’s a product of Creative Labs, a division of Facebook that, it says, “is crafting new apps to support the diverse ways people want to connect and share”. However, it is generally regarded as the space where small teams have free reign to experiment with new apps and options.

“Our group came together to solve a specific problem,” says Ruben. “We’ve all experienced those times when we’re hanging out with friends and take pics and say we’ll send them later but that never happens. It’s too hard to share lot of photos with a small group of people. You also have big group shots where everyone has their own version because they each had it taken with their own phone cameras.”

Sharing in Moments, he stresses, is totally separate from sharing on Facebook: “It’s you, your pics and your friends. By sharing in this way, it increases the chance of getting that pic you know was taken but you didn’t have on your own phone.”

The facial recognition technology at the heart of Moments may seem intimidating to those who have heard of such techniques being used for law enforcement. However, Facebook has been using it for several years already, as the basis for recommending which friends to tag in photos users post in their timelines.

Moments takes this a step further not in terms of technological advance, but in terms of how the technology can be put to use. Aside from identifying faces, it also synchronises them, links them up between friends’ albums – where they have accepted the link – and offers suggestions for who is in what pic.

“Moments also organizes pics in other ways,” says Ruben. “You can see all the pics you received in chronological gallery view, like a camera roll, but with a higher signal to noise ratio than a camera roll, because it not only syncs those pics that you took with friends, but also contains other people’s photos.

“I have 1400 photos of myself, and 1300 of my girlfriend, mostly because other people have synced photos of myself they’ve taken. I also have five pics of my brother Andrew he doesn’t have yet, so he can just press the Check button and he has five photos of himself he wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

The coup de grace for Moments is that it can automatically make a movie of the best photos in a particular “moment”, for example to tell the story of a wedding. The user can choose from a number of themes, and the app creates photo transitions to beat of music, making for what Ruben calls “a high quality sharing experience”.

The movie can be edited quickly, with photos added or removed if the app missed key images or added unwanted ones. The entire movie is then instantly recalibrated so that the music still keeps time with the images.

Aside from putting a good few existing apps out of business, Moments is also an answer to an increasingly common question in social media: Can we ever get enough of sharing? For now, the answer seems to be “No”.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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