Archives for category: Uncategorized

Google’s Perspective is an API that aims to keep micturitors from fouling community swimming pools.

Perspective is an API that makes it easier to host better conversations. The API uses machine learning models to score the perceived impact a comment might have on a conversation. Developers and publishers can use this score to give realtime feedback to commenters or help moderators do their job, or allow readers to more easily find relevant information, as illustrated in two experiments below. We’ll be releasing more machine learning models later in the year, but our first model identifies whether a comment could be perceived as “toxic" to a discussion.

Check out the slider bar example and the writing example here. It seems to work pretty well!

Wikipedia, The NY Times, The Economist, and The Guardian experimenting with the technology to help them approve/disapprove of comments more quickly.

An interesting read via Boing Boing

Nintendo has claimed that its Switch console can last over six hours depending on usage conditions. Specifically, the company said that users should be able to get roughly three hours playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We received several Nintendo Switch consoles in the office along with copies of the game and put that claim to the test.

No Caption Provided

Technology Editor Jimmy Thang played the game with a full charge on the screen’s default brightness and got three hours and three minutes of battery life until the device keeled over. With a full charge and playing in airplane mode on full brightness, Reviews Editor Peter Brown got two hours and 50 minutes out of the console. Both figures come relatively close to Nintendo’s three-hour claim.

If you’re wondering how fast the Switch charges, Peter clocked a 49 percent charge after an hour in the dock.

For more information on the Switch, make sure to check out all of the console’s details here.

An interesting read via GameSpot

Procuring reliable reproductive health care can be a difficult task under the best of circumstances. Factor in increasing political restrictions on basic health care and the unfamiliarity of traveling to a new area and the search can seem like more trouble than it’s worth; a circumstance which ultimately puts health at risk. 

However, an open-source database known as Gynopedia is emerging as a resource in the search for women’s health care throughout the world. The site is searchable by both city and services, which can include emergency contraception, disease testing, and pregnancy exams.

Further, the site recommends safe and reputable clinics for pregnancy terminations based on user feedback. 

The creator of Gynopedia, Lani Fried, pursued the idea to fill a need that she came across in her own life. When asked about the inspiration for the site, she simply replied, "Honestly, because I couldn’t find anything like it." The realization came last year when she realized how difficult it was to procure useful information for her upcoming trip to Asia. 

She states on the site: 

"…I’m someone who has been uninsured, in need of health care and lost in cities many times — and that’s just me. There are millions of women who have it much worse — cut off from information and progressive health care, isolated from so many resources. 


A substantial threat to the efficacy of a crowdsourced medical resource, especially one pertaining to the mired issue of reproductive rights, is the risk of bad information, intentional or not. Such a site would likely serve as an obvious target of those fighting against women’s access to reproductive medical services. 

As of now, there are guidelines in place, but nothing foolproof. However, she hopes that a loyal and diligent community surrounding the site will serve to keep the information topical and uncompromised. Fried says, "My main goal now is to recruit more contributors so that we can grow into a full-on Wiki and always be current." 

Hopefully, her efforts will be enough to ease the burden of finding basic health care when women are away from home. 

An interesting read via GOOD

Behind you, red!

LAS VEGAS—In a Thursday speech at the gaming-minded DICE Summit, Microsoft’s head of its 343 Industries group (meaning, all things Halo) confirmed a return to split-screen modes in the series’ first-person shooter games.

"We will always have split-screen support going forward" for all first-person shooter games in the series, 343 chief Bonnie Ross told the Vegas crowd. Ross did not clarify if that ruling would apply to either cooperative or competitive modes in the series going forward, nor did she clarify how split-screen modes would work in any potential "Xbox Play Anywhere" entries in Halo that work on Windows 10. (This month’s Halo Wars 2 is the first true "Play Anywhere" game in the Halo series.) We have reached out to Microsoft to seek clarification, and we will update this report with any response.

2015’s Halo 5: Guardians was a peculiar release in the series for a few reasons, but one stands out to the couch-combat fans at Ars Technica: its lack of split-screen combat, either in four-player local versus modes or in its campaign, which revolved around four-player co-op battling (as opposed to many prior games that limited campaign co-op to two players). While the game was in development, a 343 developer told fans via Twitter that Halo 5 would include split-screen modes, but the studio eventually walked that statement back.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

An interesting read via Opposable Thumbs

GameSpot: The franchises you’re known for working on are these vast open-worlds. I wanted to get your take on what even makes a good open-world game anymore. Do you think that there is an over-saturation of open-world games in the industry? Or is "open-world" just this buzzword that developers want to cross off on a checklist?

Howard: I think there’s some truth to that. The thing that defined our current generation of Xbox One, PS4 games, are open-worlds. The technology has allowed more people to do it. The thing with open-world, and the reason we’ve always liked it, is that it shows off what is best about a video game in general. Video games can put you somewhere you’re not. You know, movies and books and other things can give you good linear experiences, but video games make you the director of your experience. An open-world is the best form of that.

I also think there are certain open-world games where you can see the "gamification" of things, and sometimes that’s successful, but somethings that breaks the illusion. Like, "I felt like I was there before the game rewarded me for something that it shouldn’t have." And we [at Bethesda] deal with that as well. I think as we go along and others go along, you want to push interactivity, you want to push AI in those worlds. There are still so many types of worlds to present. Or even worlds you’ve seen before presented in new ways whether that’s better displays or better hardware, all the way up to VR.

What are the challenges of implementing open-worlds in VR?

Well, we’re doing that know with Fallout 4. And it’s been incredibly exciting. The challenges have more to do with how you move through the world and so what we’re doing right now, we’ve taken the entirety of Fallout 4 into VR, and there’s still work to do, but the promise of, "Okay, I’m standing in this vast world where I can go where I want." When it works well, I have to say it’s one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in a game.

You’ve worked on Fallout 4, Fallout 3, Skyrim, and Oblivion. It seems that they have their own distinct flavor, as opposed to Rockstar open-worlds or Ubisoft open-worlds. Or even Metal Gear Solid 5. If someone were to turn on a game and play Skyrim as opposed to these other games, in your words, what would describe a Bethesda open-world as opposed to these other ones?

I think our worlds say "yes" to the player more. There’s more you can do. We obsess over picking up all the items and how they work together.

Other open-worlds, they’re fabulous, particularly the Rockstar stuff. They’re incredible. We look at a lot of their stuff. I don’t know how they do some of the amazing things they do. One of the things that we do that I think sets us apart, we’re not really putting you on a mission where the world shuts down. You know, you can be on 20 quests at once. And there’s much more, in our games, more dynamic systems that are just all going at the same time. And sometimes the collisions of those systems make for interesting gameplay.

Sometimes they create havoc that we may need to fix, but often, the player is thinking, "I wonder if I can do this?" And they find out they can, or they think of a way that two things smash together.

It seems that the farther we get into the whole medium and the more it matures and people find creative new ways to utilize video games, it seems like more and more developers are putting an emphasis on emergence rather than telling this linear, directed story. Doing what bethesda does well, and letting players tell their own stories. Studios like Arcane Studios pretty much hang their hat on that kind of game. Can you speak to that?

I still think you see both kinds. I don’t know that I could cap it and say, "That’s where the industry is headed," But one of the things that really encourages me across the industry is, all types of games now have avenues for success through mobile kickstarters, Steam, console, free, paid–whatever.

Even though we’ve always done emergent storytelling, I think it’s made more people have the ability to put that kind of gameplay into their games, and they’re finding that the players enjoy it more. They’re more attached to the experience because they made it their own. And that’s what we’ve always thought when we’ve played games. Which is why we did it in our games. "This is mine." Even though it’s not multiplayer, that water cooler moment of sharing my experience. "This is what I did and this is what you did. Did you know this? Did you know this? Did you know this?" It’s much more personal. And you take a greater amount of pride in what you are doing in the game.

Are there any trends that you particularly dislike, or trends worry you within the industry, whether it’s on a business side, or whether it’s on a design side?

The one that worries me is when everyone says, "This is where the industry is going." If anything is proven true, it’s that you don’t know where it’s going. I think I kind of enjoy the ride rather than the view of everything. I think the real advances are when people are true to themselves and true to the games they want to make. And sometimes that takes a long time and several versions of a game or a studio to get right.

Speaking of different kind of experiences and staying true to your game, during Bethesda’s press conference a couple of years ago when you announced Fallout 4’s release date, you also announced Fallout Shelter. I forget your exact quote, but you were saying, "This isn’t some throwaway mobile game. This is really a fun game that we worked to make meaningful, and to make it a fun game for your mobile devices." What was it like working on a smaller title like as opposed to these massive open-worlds, and do you have plans to do something like that in the future again?

Yeah, we loved making it, so we were ecstatic when it was so successful, and it kind of blew us away. We do have another mobile project game that we thought about for a while, and based on the Shelter experience, we’re able to kind of roll out something new.

The Nintendo Switch releases in a couple weeks, and Skyrim’s being ported to it. I want to get your thoughts on the Switch in general. I know people have asked you about it, but with its imminent release, what are your thoughts about the platform, and what changes do you think it might bring about? What opportunities do you think it can afford Nintendo developers or third-party developers like Bethesda that can come to this platform?

Well, first I think it’s really smart what they’ve done. It’s the kind of device that only Nintendo could make. It’s really a Nintendo thing. And they’ve been a very good partner with us, whereas maybe before they were less interested in the types of things that we did or some other groups did. So, I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I think it’s a really smart platform. We like it a lot. It’s exciting to bring Skyrim to the Nintendo audience.

Nintendo has been a really good partner for us, whereas maybe they were a little less interested in the types of things we did before.

Looking at Skyrim specifically, not necessarily just for the Switch but for the remastered edition, what was it like returning to it after you had made and released Fallout 4? You had kind of taken that next evolutionary step in the Bethesda open-world portfolio. What was it like returning to Skyrim?

I think I said to somebody that it was like seeing an old friend from like high school and realizing how much you missed spending time together. When we were making Skyrim… It’s your whole life, right? And you start losing perspective on, "Is this fun? What’s not fun? What’s good? What’s bad?" And so being able to come back to it, you really see it. It’s kind of one of those rare times where you sit down and you see something you made as a gamer, you kind of forget all the versions of a certain feature or what it took to get there. You’re just playing for what it is, you know what I mean?

That was really the reason we pushed on the remaster. We still really enjoy this game, and it’s a great project to work on. And it is interesting to play it and see the differences from Fallout 4, and the things you’re like, "Oh I actually like the way this works better in Skyrim." They both have millions of daily players, and we’re supporting both with online bases and mods now.

Kind of putting you on the spot, but can you mention anything specific that you thought Skyrim might have done better than Fallout 4? Or vice-versa?

I think Skyrim is a little bit more, "Find your own way." It’s more inviting for the type of character you want to play, whereas Fallout 4 probably tells a stronger but specific story. There’s some other things that dealt with skill progression. How content is presented. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, and we’re very critical of our own stuff. So we really break it down and say, "Well, what do we think the best way to proceed is?"

How do you go about taking that Bethesda open-world formula and iterating on it? I know Fallout 4 added shelters, and it became more customizable in a lot of ways. How do you even decide what you wanted to improve on between titles?

A lot of times we start with the vibe. What is the tone of the world? I think that’s your guiding light in terms of what the player’s going to feel when they play the game. And how does the player make it their own? You see a lot of that in Fallout 4. And one of the things that we try to do is how do we tell a better story in an open-world? I think with each of our games we’ve had successes there and failures there. And if you ask us internally, we have new ideas there that we want to explore in the future because we feel like we haven’t really cracked it yet the way we think it could be.

You look at the upcoming Breath of the Wild. It looks like they’re returning to the kind of storytelling you and I were talking about. More emergent, and more systems interacting to have these water cooler moments, rather than this directed funneling point A, to point B, to point C storyline, and it’s interesting to me to see that Nintendo is doing that. I’m not sure how much time you’ve had to play a lot of games. I know a lot developers have to focus on solely their projects. But I’m curious if there are any more open-world games, or games in general, that you’ve recently gotten a chance to check out?

I tried Uncharted 4, and that’s a game that tells an amazing story. A game like Inside, I loved that I’m kind of interpreting their story, but that’s a very strong, emotional game through subtlety. So I think there are a lot of ways to attack that. I’ve being playing a lot of Clash Royale lately. You play Clash Royale? I love that game.

A little bit, yeah.

What else do I play? I play a lot of Overwatch. I think it’s a phenomenal game. And that’s an interesting one. I think Blizzard’s done a masterful job with how they’ve created these characters in their world that you love through their short videos and stuff. And Overwatch is a game that shouldn’t have a great story, but it does. It’s very compelling. I guess my point is that there are a lot of ways to go about it. I think a lot of people are able fix that in different ways.

The best games are made by teams. Teams that work well together. And we always have ideas.

I did want to ask just kind of a personal overarching question. Now that you’re being inducted [into the AIAS Hall of Fame] and you’re known as an auteur in the game space–what is driving you on your new titles? Like the mobile game you’re working on or the next big open-world game you’re planning. What is it that keeps you driven? Is it the same as it was a few years ago? Has it changed? Do you have different passions within the medium?

It’s kind of been the same for me. You know, 20 plus years I’ve worked with a lot of the same people, so I’ll accept the honor of course, but it’s really for everybody here. I think the best games are made by teams. Teams that work well together. We’ve been fortunate to do it over a long period of time. We always have ideas. We feel like we’re doing more than we ever are, but coming to work and working with these people, most of them are my best friends and we’ve done it for a long time, and we always have new ideas. And once it gets in your head you’re just like, "Oh my God. I want to play that game. We have to make it, let’s go." And you can’t shape that. You want to do it as fast as you can. You have some things that take too long, but video games, making them and playing them, and the whole industry has given me such joy. That’s still the same thing that’s always been driving me.

An interesting read via GameSpot

whileThe Batman has a new director. Matt Reeves, who’s best known for directing Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and War for the Planet of the Apes has signed on to direct and produce the film in Ben Affleck’s stead. The word comes from Deadline, after word broke that he was a top choice for the role earlier this month and after a week of back and forth that almost saw him depart from the film. He’s an excellent choice for picking up an intense action film, and he might be the type of director that the DC Extended Universe needs.

Following his stint as Batman in Batman v Superman, Ben Affleck had been named as director and writer for the upcoming standalone film featuring the character. However, Affleck stepped away from the role of director in January, noting that he didn’t feel he could do both direct and act in the film. Following Affleck’s departure, Reeves had been named as a frontrunner for the director’s chair.

“I have loved the Batman story since I was a child,” Reeves said in a press release, according to io9. “He is such an iconic and compelling character, and one that resonates with me deeply. I am incredibly honored and excited to be working with Warner Bros. to bring an epic and emotional new take on the Caped Crusader to the big screen.” There’s no word on when the film will hit theaters.

Affleck’s departure from the project was a loss for the film — he has received acclaim as a director for his work on Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and earned a Golden Globe and BAFTA Award for Best Director for his work on Argo. While it would have been interesting to see just what Affleck would have done behind the camera, Reeves will be a good replacement.

Reeves, however, is certainly a good choice for picking up his duties, especially with the issues that Warner Bros. has been having with their critically maligned, if financially successful, cinematic universe. Reeves is no stranger to other big franchise films. However, he’s cautious about them, telling IndieWire back in 2014, “I’m always looking for a reason to say no when I’m approached about a big studio tentpole because your fear is will you be consumed into the anonymous machine and it will suck out any specificity and point of view that you might hope to express.”

Reeves could offer something that the DCEU desperately needs: a focus on characters and story. His film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a rare example of a sequel film that quietly does everything right. Reeves behind the wheel of a standalone film probably isn’t enough to change the course for Warners, but he could be a good step in the right direction.

An interesting read via The Verge – All Posts

If you want to control Donald Trump, say something nice about him.

That’s the lesson conveyed by a number of people who worked for President Trump during the 2016 presidential election. The former staffers tell Politico that they would selectively feed Trump positive stories about him in order to limit his outbursts on Twitter, which were causing a distraction and presumably hurting his image.

“If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable,” Trump’s former communications director Sam Nunberg told Politoco. “The same media that our base digests and prefers is going to be the base for his support. I would assume the president would like to see positive and preferential treatment from those outlets and that would help the operation overall.”

Interestingly, the report also says the reason the strategy worked was that Trump “rarely reads anything online,” instead getting his news from traditional print newspapers and cable news. But the deeper, obvious take away is the theory that Trump makes impulsive decisions, often dictated by the last people who speak with him before a choice is settled on.

National Review’s Romesh Ponnuru writes, “The story is being taken to confirm that Trump is a thin-skinned narcissist with a small attention span–and parts of it do indeed reinforce that impression.”

That’s not to say progressives can compliment Trump into failure but it does give a deeper sense into what puts Trump reactive mode: critical stories and feeling like he doesn’t have someone speaking on behalf of his side of the argument. 

An interesting read via GOOD

There’s a rising chorus of concern among tech leaders in the United States about how quickly robots will take away human jobs.

Stephen Hawking has warned about the perils of automation in the past: 

“The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative, or supervisory roles remaining.” 

Elon Musk had this to say about the machine uprising at the the World Government Summit in Dubai:

“What to do about mass unemployment? This is going to be a massive social challenge. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better (than a human). These are not things that I wish will happen. These are simply things that I think probably will happen.” 

And in February, Bill Gates proposed that governments start taxing robot workers the same way we tax human workers:

“You cross the threshold of job replacement of certain activities all sort of at once. … So, you know, warehouse work, driving, room cleanup, there’s quite a few things that are meaningful job categories that, certainly in the next 20 years (will go away).” 

To put it bluntly, jobs are vanishing much faster than anyone ever imagined, though it also appears we’ve been turning a blind eye to the warning signs. In 2013, policy makers largely ignored two Oxford economists who suggested that 45 percent of all U.S. jobs could be automated away within the next 20 years. Today, that stark warning sounds all but inevitable. Below we break down three sectors at risk for automation and the millions of Americans who will likely be effected. 

Transportation and warehousing: 5 million Americans

Those self-driving cars you keep hearing about are about to replace a lot of human workers. Currently in the United States, there are:

There’s also an estimated 1 million truck drivers in the United States. And Uber just bought a self-driving truck company. As self-driving cars become legal in more states, we’ll likely see a rapid automation of all of these driving jobs. Why? It’s simple math: If a one-time $30,000 truck retrofit can replace a $40,000 per year human trucker, there will soon be a million truckers out of work.

And it’s not just the drivers being replaced. Soon entire warehouses will be fully automated. The video below shows just how easily a fleet of small robots can replace a huge number of human warehouse workers.

A big part of sales is figuring out — or even predicting — what a customer will want. Well, Amazon grossed $136 billion last year, and its “salespeople” are its algorithm-powered recommendation engines. Imagine the impact that Amazon will have on retail when they release all of that artificial intelligence into brick-and-mortar stores.

Restaurant workers: 14 million Americans

The United States will soon go the way of Japan, which has been automating aspects of its restaurants for decades : taking orders, serving food, washing dishes—even automating food preparation itself.

There’s even a company that makes delivery trucks that drive around and start baking pizzas in real time as orders come in.

Automation is inevitable, but we still have time to take action and help displaced workers. The software powering these robots becomes more powerful every day. We can’t stop it. But we can adapt to it.

Beyond Gate’s recommendation to tax the robotic workforce, Elon Musk recommends we adopt universal basic income, which would provide every American in a certain tax bracket a living income each year without the restraints our welfare system currently puts in place. As many in the universal basic income community believe, this would allow the economy to continue on as millions of U.S. workers find themselves displaced by automation. 

My own personal recommendation is to take this a step further by taking part of the taxpayer money we’re using to subsidize industries that are now mostly automated and, instead, invest it in training workers for emerging engineering jobs.

The answer to the automation challenge may involve some combination of these three approaches and will undoubtedly come with complications. But we need to take action now, before we face the worst unemployment disaster since the Great Depression.

What else can we all do while facing the future of a changing American workforce? 

-Educate yourself on the automation and its economics effects. This is the best book on the subject.

-Talk with your friends and family about automation. We can’t ignore it just because it’s scary and unpredictable. We need a public discourse on this so we can decide as a country what to do about it — before the corporations and their bottom lines decide for us.

Contact your representatives and ask them what they’re doing about automation and unemployment. Tell them we need a robot tax, universal basic income, or more money invested into technology education — whichever of these best aligns with your political views.

If we act now, we can still rise to the automation challenge and save millions of Americans from hardship.

An interesting read via GOOD

2015’s Halo 5: Guardians did not include any kind of split-screen, something that Microsoft was criticized for. Today, the company confirmed that Halo 6, or whatever the next game in the series is called, will indeed have split-screen support.

No Caption Provided

This was confirmed by 343 Industries executive Bonnie Ross during a speech at DICE 2017. Ross said not including split-screen in Halo 5 was one of the "painful learnings" that Microsoft faced after taking over ownership of the Halo brand from Bungie.

"For any FPS going out forward, we will always have split-screen in," she said.

Ross also said Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s rough launch was another "painful learning" for Microsoft. The company previously referred to this as a "black eye" for the developer.

Struggles like this are "incedible painful for the community and for us–and it erodes trust," she said.

Immediately after Halo 5 came out, Halo franchise director Frank O’Connor said the blowback from the game’s lack of split-screen support was "huge." It was technically impossible for 343 to add split-screen to Halo 5 through a patch, O’Connor said.

The game’s 60 FPS frame rate is partially responsible for this. When 343 made the decision to have Halo 5 run at a locked 60 FPS, the team did so with the understanding that it would create "some issues" and technical impossibilities for the rest of the game.

The number of people who play Halo games via local split-screen is small relative to the total player base, O’Connor explained.

No new Halo FPS games have been announced. Xbox boss Phil Spencer recently suggested the next Halo FPS will not be released this year, which is no big surprise, given that Halo 5 is not even two years old.

What do you make of Microsoft’s new commitment to Halo split-screen? Let us know in the comments below!

An interesting read via GameSpot

Google’s Jigsaw unit, as part of a larger effort to battle online trolling, said earlier today that it was releasing a new tool called Perspective, software that uses machine learning to detect harassment and abuse online.

While Jigsaw and its software are not new — it’s been around in some form since 2010, though with a different name, and Jigsaw software has even been used to spot potential ISIS recruits — this new Perspective API makes it available to developers who want to use and build on top of the software. The software works by determining the “toxicity” of online comments, a scale that has been established by mining millions of comments from the web and then presenting them to panels of 10 people (humans!) at a clip to get their feedback.

There’s a demo version of the tool available on the Perspective API website, which anyone can use to type in a draft of their comments and get a sense of how toxic or abusive they might be (assuming one is thoughtful enough to go to the Perspective API website before they dash off their comment on an internet forum and leave a digital footprint for all of eternity). But its real value may come from being plugged directly into popular comment sections on the web. Publishers like The New York Times, the Guardian and the Economist are experimenting with the tool, according to this report in Wired, and plan to use it as a way to keep their comment sections a space where “everyone can have intelligent debates.”

Certain phrases or quotes that have worked their way into the mainstream in recent months register fairly high on the toxicity scale, according to the Perspective tool. “Fake news!” registered as 47 percent similar to comments people said were "toxic." “Bad hombre” is 55 percent similar to comments people labeled as toxic. “Grab her by the pussy” was 92 percent similar.

But there also seem to be nuances that the tool isn’t picking up, which may just be a part of the “learning” process of the machine learning. In the spirit of testing Perspective, I entered some of the remarks that were left on a recent YouTube video I did. “How about Verge allow a man to review the watch?” someone wrote, which is blatantly sexist but only three percent similar to other toxic comments, according to Perspective. A negative comment about my appearance was only 6 percent similar to other negative remarks; it is somewhat reassuring that another YouTube comment, suggesting I have an eating disorder, was said to be 26 percent similar to other terrible remarks.

Wired’s Andy Greenberg had similar results when he ran Jigsaw’s software through its paces last fall, and pointed out that the “algorithm still has lessons to learn.” Which, apparently, is not too dissimilar from us humans.

An interesting read via The Verge – All Posts