1: The future of voice assistants is…phones?
Last week, Audible (which is a subsidiary of Amazon) introduced a feature that allows U.S. owners of Amazon Echo devices to call Audible’s live customer service line. What’s interesting here is the concept of building on top of systems that are already voice driven (aka the phone) rather than trying to convert visual user experiences into conversational ones. According to The Verge, this is the first Alexa-powered customer support service. For now, it is simply providing a link to existing human support representatives, but we can easily see the signal of competition with Google’s Duplex, which uses human-sounding bots to make phone calls on your behalf for structured tasks like booking appointments.
2: Art in the age of computational production
The Huawei P30 Pro is known for having one of the top smartphone cameras on the market. But one camera feature set off some recent controversy:
Using Moon Mode, a Huawei P30 Pro owner can take a close-up picture of the moon with no tripod or zoom lens necessary. Reportedly, the feature works by using the phone’s periscope zoom lens combined with an AI algorithm to enhance details in the photo.
However, some photographers who have been testing the camera claim that Huawei is going beyond enhancement and actually replacing parts of the image with pre-existing images of the moon. There’s a fascinating set of questions embedded in this controversy: How much do we want computers to “help” us? What constitutes the boundary between “real” and “fake”? At what point does computational augmentation decay authenticity?
3: Drone delivery on the horizon
The Federal Aviation Administration recently awarded their first air carrier certification to a drone delivery company. Wing, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, will begin delivering products by drone in Virginia as part of a pilot project. Previously, Wing had been testing its technology in Canberra, Australia.
When a Wing drone makes a delivery, it hovers at about 20 feet and lowers the package on a hook. Customers can select what they want delivered on an app.
4: “Fashion forward” wearables for recording your life
Opkix is the latest company to take a stab at the wearable camera market, with a set of accessories that include necklaces, sunglasses, and rings. We’ve seen some pretty spectacular failures in this space before, most notably Google Glass and Snap Spectacles. Does Opkix provide a combination of compactness and fashion that can change the game? Is the moment suddenly ripe for something that has seen failures in the past (we’ve seen this before with both digital music players and ebook readers)? Or is this a solution without a real problem to be solved?
5: Shifting social media aesthetics
Speaking of authenticity, Taylor Lorenz’s piece in The Atlantic last week notes a reactionary trend against the “Instagram aesthetic”. While the social media platform has become famous for highly polished, stylized glamour shots, that look seems to be going out of style in favor of more unfiltered, low-production aesthetics.
In fact, many teens are going out of their way to make their photos look worse. Huji Cam, which make your images look as if they were taken with an old-school throwaway camera, has been downloaded more than 16 million times. “Adding grain to your photos is a big thing now,” says Sonia Uppal, a 20-year-old college student. “People are trying to seem candid. People post a lot of mirror selfies and photos of them lounging around.”
Of course, it’s all a pendulum, so if you’re still ‘gramming your rainbow food, it’s only a matter of time before you’re back on trend again.
6: Training for robotic futures
OK, it’s a bit overdone to horror-post Boston Dynamics robots, but this video inside their testing facility is pretty fascinating. I especially like the sign that says “Not safe for humans. Robots only.”
Six Signals is a biweekly look at interesting signals of the near future — how technology, design, and more are changing our society and our personal experiences.