Amazon has announced a full range of new spherical Echo devices, new motorised smart display, a camera drone that flies around your house, a game-streaming service and more. In a streaming presentation, the firm showed off a smorgasbord of new devices from its various brands, including Ring, Eero Fire and Echo. The new standard Echo ditches its cylindrical shape for a fabric-covered ball design with Amazon's characteristic light-ring in the base to indicate when it is listening to you. It has a new 3in woofer and two tweeters with Dolby processing for stereo sound and automatic adjustment to the acoustics of your room. It also has Amazon's new AZ1 artificial intelligence chip for greater local processing of voice and other actions for increased privacy and speed.
In Gujarat, a tiny independent studio is drawing on India's rich literary history to create surreal games that flow like visual poems, evoking decades of colonial literature and folk theatre to draw attention to the politics of today. Through fantastical environments where buildings and oversized monuments are made of rubber sandals and toothpaste tubes, Studio Oleomingus – made up of writer/artist Dhruv Jani and programmer Sushant Chakraborty, with help from another programmer, Vivek Savsaiya – crafts interactive stories that cast a playful light on India's complicated past and present. "We find video games to be excellent spaces for political discourse," Jani tells me over Skype. "The government is hardly bothered about something as'trivial' as video games, and they also give you a lot of room to think and ponder complex ideas." The studio's short, experimental games, drenched in vibrant colours and otherworldly imagery, pay homage to the magical realist, nonsense literature that defined many Indian childhoods.
Microsoft is acquiring ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, publisher of the best-selling video game franchises The Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Doom. The $7.5bn deal (£5.85m) will see all future releases from Bethesda's studios included on the Xbox Game Pass subscription service. Xbox chief Phil Spencer said: "Like us, Bethesda are passionate believers in building a diverse array of creative experiences, in exploring new game franchises, and in telling stories in bold ways. All of their great work will continue and grow, and we look forward to empowering them with the resources and support of Microsoft to scale their creative visions to more players in new ways for you." The move could significantly affect the industry.
YouTube viewers are being asked to become "watchdogs" and record their use of the site to help uncover the ways in which its recommendation algorithm can lead to online radicalisation. Mozilla, the non-profit behind the Firefox web browser, has produced a new browser extension, called RegretsReporter, which will allow YouTube users to record and upload information about harmful videos recommended by the site, as well as the route they took to get there. "For years, people have raised the alarm about YouTube recommending conspiracy theories, misinformation, and other harmful content," said Ashley Boyd, Mozilla's head of engagement and advocacy. "One of YouTube's most consistent responses is to say that they are making progress on this and have reduced harmful recommendations by 70%. But there is no way to verify those claims or understand where YouTube still has work to do. "That's why we're recruiting YouTube users to become YouTube watchdogs.
With much of the world stuck indoors in 2020, video games have been experiencing a boom – in fact we are spending more time, and more money, on gaming than ever before. And if you're imagining that it's lifelong gamers who are leading the surge, you're wrong. All kinds of people have discovered – or rediscovered – a passion for video games: from retirees with extra time on their hands to stressed parents looking for something to do with the kids. And now, with a socially distanced winter looming, the halting of big gatherings and the possible threat of more lockdowns, video games have quickly become one of the safest – and most popular – ways to socialise. There are whole worlds to be discovered in gaming: you can garden, ride dragons, go deep-sea diving, hunt ghosts, have a wild romance or even work as a barista in a town full of vampires.
This summer, OpenAI, a San Francisco-based artificial intelligence company co-founded by Elon Musk, debuted GPT-3, a powerful new language generator that can produce human-like text. According to Wired, the power of the program, trained on billions of bytes of data including e-books, news articles and Wikipedia (the latter making up just 3% of the training data it used), was producing "chills across Silicon Valley." Soon after its release, researchers were using it to write fiction, suggest medical treatment, predict the rest of 2020, answer philosophical questions and much more. When we asked GPT-3 to write an op-ed convincing us we have nothing to fear from AI, we had two goals in mind. First, we wanted to determine whether GPT-3 could produce a draft op-ed which could be published after minimal editing. Second, we wanted to know what kinds of arguments GPT-3 would deploy in attempting to convince humans that robots come in peace.
One billion hours, veteran game designer Sid Meier notes in this light and enjoyable memoir, is an unfathomable length of time. And yet it took just six years for players to spend a billion cumulative hours on the fifth iteration of Meier's engrossing Civilization series, a nation-building game that has seen them shepherding their peoples from the foundation of their first city in 4000BC to an eventual victory through military, cultural or scientific might, millions of times over. What makes the Civilzation games so compelling? The fans are a cut above; I'd know as I am one of them, having racked up 530 hours on Civilization VI since I bought it at the beginning of lockdown. For Meier, good game design comes down, at its core, to a series of "interesting decisions".
Stormzy has filmed the music video for Rainfall, the forthcoming single from his No 1 album Heavy is the Head, entirely inside a video game. The award-winning grime artist and social activist will also star as a future version of himself in a mission in the game, Watch Dogs: Legion, which is released on 29 October. Watch Dogs: Legion invites players to join the hacker resistance in a futuristic post-Brexit London under the thumb of an oppressive surveillance regime and its private military. Any of the thousands of different Londoners wandering the virtual streets can be recruited to the cause, and the player can control any one of them. The game, which is being developed by Ubisoft in Toronto and comes out next month, recreates various London locations from Trafalgar Square to Tower Hamlets and Camden.
Your report on the use of robots in care homes follows a familiar and dispiriting pattern (Robots to be used in UK care homes to help reduce loneliness, 7 September). Interventions of all kinds, from art groups to yoga, have been shown to improve residents' mood and mental state, at least temporarily. Most of these interventions clearly have their own intrinsic value, but what most studies fail to account for is the grim and barren social environment that residents too commonly inhabit. Field work has shown that loneliness, isolation and a lack of human interaction is all too common within care homes. These places are generally understaffed and this is the result of chronic underfunding of the care sector.
The first international standards for the design and reporting of clinical trials involving artificial intelligence have been announced in a move experts hope will tackle the issue of overhyped studies and prevent harm to patients. While the possibility that AI could revolutionise healthcare has fuelled excitement, in particular around screening and diagnosis, researchers have previously warned that the field is strewn with poor-quality research. Now an international team of experts has launched a set of guidelines under which clinical trials involving AI will be expected to meet a stringent checklist of criteria before being published in top journals. The new standards are being simultaneously published in the BMJ, Nature Medicine and Lancet Digital Health, expanding on existing standards for clinical trials – put in place more than a decade ago for drugs, diagnostic tests, and other interventions – to make them more suitable for AI-based systems. Prof Alastair Denniston of the University of Birmingham, an expert in the use of AI in healthcare and member of the team, said the guidelines were crucial to making sure AI systems were safe and effective for use in healthcare settings.