The Guardian


The Elder Scrolls VI, Starfield and the future of video game giant Bethesda

The Guardian

In the early 2000s, game publisher Bethesda was best known for its Elder Scrolls series of technologically ambitious fantasy games. In the last 15 years, however, it has expanded greatly, snapping up several legendary video game franchises as well as starting an original series of its own. The company now produces the Fallout post-apocalyptic role-playing games; the iconic, hellish shooter Doom; tongue-in-cheek Nazi-killing romp Wolfenstein; supernatural steampunk assassin sim Dishonoured; and Rage, a Mad Max-style romp around a devastated world. At its E3 press conference last month, after showing new Doom, Rage, Fallout and Wolfenstein titles, Bethesda teased the next entry in its Elder Scrolls series as well as a new sci-fi role-playing game called Starfield. For both, 100 hours is a conservative playtime estimate.


Microsoft calls for facial recognition technology rules given 'potential for abuse'

The Guardian

Microsoft has called for facial recognition technology to be regulated by government, with for laws governing its acceptable uses. In a blog post on the company's website on Friday, Microsoft president Brad Smith called for a congressional bipartisan "expert commission" to look into regulating the technology in the US. "It seems especially important to pursue thoughtful government regulation of facial recognition technology, given its broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse," he wrote. "Without a thoughtful approach, public authorities may rely on flawed or biased technological approaches to decide who to track, investigate or even arrest for a crime." Microsoft is the first big tech company to raise serious alarms about an increasingly sought-after technology for recognising a person's face from a photo or through a camera.


Apple releases new, faster MacBook Pro laptops

The Guardian

Apple has updated its MacBook Pro laptops with new processors, keyboards and display technology, and hands-free Siri. The update is slightly more than an expected specifications improvement for Apple's popular "Pro" laptops. Both the 13-inch and 15in MacBook Pros with Touch Bar will now come equipped with the latest eighth-generation Intel Core i5, i7 and i9 processors, bringing them into line with competition from Windows PC manufacturers such as Huawei, Dell and others. The 13in laptop gains quad-core versions of the i5 and i7 processors, up from the dual-core versions used until now, which Apple says will be up to twice as fast. The larger 15in laptop gains 6-core i7 and i9 processors, replacing the quad-core versions, which Apple says will be 70% faster.


How Minecraft is helping kids fall in love with books

The Guardian

Robert Louis Stevenson's 1881 classic Treasure Island tells of Jim Hawkins's adventures on board the Hispaniola, as he and his crew – along with double-crossing pirate Long John Silver – set out to find Captain Flint's missing treasure on Skeleton Island. Now, more than a century later, children can try and find it themselves, with the bays and mountains of Stevenson's fictional island given a blocky remodelling in Minecraft, as part of a new project aimed at bringing reluctant readers to literary classics. From Spyglass Hill to Ben Gunn's cave, children can explore every nook and cranny of Skeleton Island as part of Litcraft, a new partnership between Lancaster University and Microsoft, which bought the game for $2.5bn (£1.9bn) in 2015 and which is now played by 74 million people each month. The Litcraft platform uses Minecraft to create accurate scale models of fictional islands: Treasure Island is the first, with Michael Morpurgo's Kensuke's Kingdom just completed and many others planned. While regular Minecraft is rife with literary creations – the whole of George RR Martin's sprawling setting for Game of Thrones, Westeros, has been created in its entirety, as have several different Hogwarts – Litcraft is not all fun and games, being peppered with educational tasks that aim to re-engage reluctant readers with the book it is based on.


Uber scales back self-driving car tests in wake of fatal crash

The Guardian

Uber laid off 100 of its self-driving car backup drivers in Pittsburgh on Wednesday as it scales back its testing in the wake of its fatal crash in March. The ride-hailing firm made 55 new mission specialist positions available to replace them, according to a report by Quartz, with the intention of returning to on-the-road testing but with a reduced fleet of cars. The new drivers will be trained in both public road and track testing, and are expected to provide a greater level of technical feedback than the company's previous safety backup drivers. Uber has used mission specialists before to operate its cars in difficult scenarios and with new equipment on test tracks. "Our team remains committed to building safe self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the coming months," said an Uber spokesperson.


Ready for liftoff? Two flying taxi startups got Pentagon funding

The Guardian

Two start-ups leading the race to build the first self-flying taxis are using money from the US military. Last year, Kitty Hawk and Joby Aviation received a total of nearly $2m from the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), a Pentagon organization founded to help America's military make faster use of emerging technologies. Neither company, nor the DIUx, disclosed the funding at the time. The website for Cora, Kitty Hawk's experimental air taxi, emphasizes its role in solving urban transportation challenges: "Cora is about the time you could save soaring over traffic. The people you could visit.


Can Facebook clean up its act?

The Guardian

Technology companies like to talk about the huge benign changes their products will bring about. Take Facebook, with its mission to "give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together". Or Google, which wants to "organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". Microsoft hopes to "empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more". Even Snapchat, which opens its corporate bio with the humble claim that "Snap Inc is a camera company", can't help but note: "We contribute to human progress by empowering people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together."


'I was shocked it was so easy': meet the professor who says facial recognition can tell if you're gay

The Guardian

Vladimir Putin was not in attendance, but his loyal lieutenants were. On 14 July last year, the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, and several members of his cabinet convened in an office building on the outskirts of Moscow. On to the stage stepped a boyish-looking psychologist, Michal Kosinski, who had been flown from the city centre by helicopter to share his research. "There was Lavrov, in the first row," he recalls several months later, referring to Russia's foreign minister. "You know, a guy who starts wars and takes over countries." Kosinski, a 36-year-old assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University, was flattered that the Russian cabinet would gather to listen to him talk. "Those guys strike me as one of the most competent and well-informed groups," he tells me. Kosinski's "stuff" includes groundbreaking research into technology, mass persuasion and artificial intelligence (AI) – research that inspired the creation of the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. Five years ago, while a graduate student at Cambridge University, he showed how even benign activity on Facebook could reveal personality traits – a discovery that was later exploited by the data-analytics firm that helped put Donald Trump in the White House.


The rise of 'pseudo-AI': how tech firms quietly use humans to do bots' work

The Guardian

It's hard to build a service powered by artificial intelligence. So hard, in fact, that some startups have worked out it's cheaper and easier to get humans to behave like robots than it is to get machines to behave like humans. "Using a human to do the job lets you skip over a load of technical and business development challenges. It doesn't scale, obviously, but it allows you to build something and skip the hard part early on," said Gregory Koberger, CEO of ReadMe, who says he has come across a lot of "pseudo-AIs". "It's essentially prototyping the AI with human beings," he said.


Investidating: why deep photo analysis has become part of online hook-ups

The Guardian

The perfect Tinder photo: yes, it has to get you on your good side and disguise that double chin, but is there more to it than just looking good? Hana Michels, a comedian and writer from LA, who shared a screengrab of her Tinder profile to Twitter this week, found that a lot of men whom she matched with weren't interested in her at all but in her toilet paper holder. She explained that she had been chastised by no fewer than 23 men in a year for the direction in which her toilet paper was facing – a small detail in the background of the photo. This is my tinder profile. I've had it for a year.