Assigning female genders to digital assistants such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa is helping entrench harmful gender biases, according to a UN agency. Research released by Unesco claims that the often submissive and flirty responses offered by the systems to many queries – including outright abusive ones – reinforce ideas of women as subservient. "Because the speech of most voice assistants is female, it sends a signal that women are obliging, docile and eager-to-please helpers, available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like'hey' or'OK'," the report said. "The assistant holds no power of agency beyond what the commander asks of it. It honours commands and responds to queries regardless of their tone or hostility. In many communities, this reinforces commonly held gender biases that women are subservient and tolerant of poor treatment."
An office worker who believes his image was captured by facial recognition cameras when he popped out for a sandwich in his lunch break has launched a groundbreaking legal battle against the use of the technology. Supported by the campaign group Liberty, Ed Bridges, from Cardiff, raised money through crowdfunding to pursue the action, claiming the suspected use of the technology on him by South Wales police was an unlawful violation of privacy. Bridges, 36, claims he was distressed by the apparent use of the technology and is also arguing during a three-day hearing at Cardiff civil justice and family centre that it breaches data protection and equality laws. Facial recognition technology maps faces in a crowd and then compares them to a watchlist of images, which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest to the police. The cameras scan faces in large crowds in public places such as streets, shopping centres, football crowds and music events such as the Notting Hill carnival.
Hidden away somewhere in my attic is an old Xbox 360 that I'll never throw away. On its hard drive is a Minecraft save file that contains the first house my oldest son ever built in the game. He was seven and, coming from a boy on the autism spectrum with a limited vocabulary and no patience to draw and paint, his creation was a revelation. Sure, it is a monstrous carbuncle, a mess of wooden planks, cobblestone and dirt. But it is also the greatest building I ever saw.
Since its beta launch in 2009, the blocky, world-building adventure game Minecraft has been released on more than 20 different platforms, from PC to consoles to mobile phones, selling 176m copies. News of a Minecraft AR (augmented reality) app leaked a few weeks ago, but now Microsoft has officially announced Minecraft Earth. It is being developed at the company's Redmond campus, using an array of its mobile, GPS and tracking technologies. Minecraft Earth is best pictured as Pokémon Go with building blocks. When you enter the game, you see an overhead map of your surroundings (Microsoft is working with StreetMap), overlaid with the quaint blocky look of the Minecraft world.
In 2016, a machine beat the world's best (human) player at the ancient strategy game Go, which up to then was said to be too intuitive for a computer. AlphaGo's victory was doubly stunning because it taught itself Go by trial and error. Does the fact that computers can now learn mean that artificial intelligence (AI) has moved from science fiction to reality? The story of AlphaGo is told in a specially isolated display, almost like a little temple, at the heart of the Barbican's sprawling survey of the past, present and future of machines that can think for themselves. It's a show that's sorely needed.
In a gallery in downtown Manhattan, people are huddling around four laptops, taking turns to control the apartments of 14 complete strangers. They watch via live video feeds, and respond whenever the residents ask "Someone" to help them. They switch the lights on and off, boil the kettle, put some music on – whatever they can do to oblige. The project, called Someone, is the latest in a series exploring our ever more complicated relationship with technology. It's by the American artist Lauren McCarthy and is a sort of outsourcing of Lauren, an earlier work in which she acted as a real-life Alexa, remotely watching over a home 24 hours a day, responding to its occupants' questions and needs like a flesh and blood version of Amazon's voice-operated virtual assistant.
What makes a good video game movie? Is there even such a thing? The curse of the video game movie has long been documented, and the stigma that it's impossible to make a good one regardless of how much money you throw at it or who plays the lead has dogged the genre for years. Video games are more lucrative than Hollywood films overall, yet video game adaptations still struggle to be taken seriously by studio executives, who often misunderstand what makes the source material so popular to begin with. The anatomy of what makes a game-to-film adaptation tick is particularly relevant now with the release of Detective Pikachu, an adaptation of one of the franchise's lesser-known properties, a spinoff crime-solving game by the same name.
Heaven's Vault, a science fiction adventure told with the appealing restraint of an Asimov classic, begins as something of a reluctant manhunt. Your character, Aliya, an orphan who as a young girl was rescued from a planet of slave traders by an esteemed academic, is summoned home to the university where she grew up. There, her adoptive mother beseeches Aliya to find an old friend who has disappeared while undertaking an archaeological treasure hunt. It's an interruption that Aliya, a freelance archaeologist-cum-treasure hunter herself, could do without. Still, through familial loyalty, or more likely a rivalrous interest in whatever treasure the vanished man was hunting, she glumly agrees to the assignment.
As Facebook all but pleads guilty to a severe form of data addiction, confessing its digital sins and promising to reinvent itself as a privacy-worshiping denizen of the global village, the foundations of Big Tech's cultural hegemony appear to be crumbling. Most surprisingly, it's in the United States, Silicon Valley's home territory, where they seem to be the weakest. Even in these times of extreme polarization, Trump, who has habitual outbursts against censorship by social media platforms, eagerly joins left-wing politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in presenting Big Tech as America's greatest menace The recent call by Chris Hughes, Facebook's co-founder, to break up the firm hints at things to come. Neither the Silicon Valley moguls nor financial markets seem to care though. The recent decision by Warren Buffet – one of America's most successful but also most conservative investors –to finally invest in Amazon is probably a better indication of wait awaits the tech giants in the medium term: more lavish initial public offerings, more Saudi cash, more promises to apply artificial intelligence to resolve the problems caused by artificial intelligence.
There's something soothing about how rubbish Google's new predictive email tools are – if AI can't work out what you want to tell your accounts department, then it won't be organising a Terminator-style insurrection any time soon. So what hope does AI have for composing music, if bland office missives are too creatively challenging? California-based electronic composer Holly Herndon considers this moment of slowly emergent machine learning on her third album. Alongside the musicians in her ensemble is Spawn, an AI she created with husband Mat Dryhurst and developer Jules LaPlace, that listened to what the group was composing and mimicked it to create music of its own. It's not always clear which bits are Spawn-created, but Herndon obviously has the final say over how its contributions are used – and indeed, the whole album feels more like an announcement of human authority rather than a capitulation to machines.