Area51, Memes, and brands

AREA51 Memes:
The internet is a funny place – full of overlapping references that can be challenging for the casual fan to appreciate and brands to activate against (without ridicule).

Recently a joke event page was made pushing people to ‘storm area 51’ (This phenomenon dates back to at least 2016 Ex. Tool @ Home Depot) 

Brands, particularly ones focused on the ‘youths’ all took a shot at getting on the joke.
LINK: We regret to inform you that brands are storming Area 51 memes – Mashable

Why it’s hot: 
If you try to please everyone, you’re going to please no one – something mass-market brands are / will continue to struggle with against smaller niche brands.

It’s interesting to pay attention to where brands will go.  Take for example Slim Jim’s recent success hiring a man who ran account making fun of slim jims are their new social media manager.

Growing the Meat-Free Market with… Vampires?

Birds Eye is launching a line of meat-free burgers, meatballs, and sausages. To announce the new products in the UK, they’re taking the comedic angle of vampires enjoying the taste:

Birds Eye is already present in 75% of British households, but only 35% of households are currently buying frozen meat-free products. They hope that rather than a “preachy” message, they can convince families to give meat-free a try by entertaining them.

Why It’s Hot

The meat-free frozen market is seeing 15% yearly sales growth, but most companies are not attempting to appeal to a wide-range market in this way. Making meat-free fun and approachable can appeal to new consumers.

Source

Grubhub under scrutiny…Food delivery wars heat up

New York is gearing up for an epic food fight.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., singled out Grubhub over the weekend, calling for greater oversight after allegations of unfair trade practices. The senior New York senator was reacting to recent reports that the delivery app company had improperly charged restaurants fees even when an order had not taken place.

Councilman Mark Gjonaj, the New York City lawmaker spearheading the push to regulate Grubhub, said it goes beyond just bogus fees.

“These mom-and-pop shops have an unfair disadvantage,” Gjonaj told CNBC’s “Fast Money ” on Monday. “They’re competing against billion-dollar venture capital-invested companies. The fee structure is up to 33% of the total charges, and we know [their] profits are 6% to 12%. On every order, there is a net loss to these small businesses.”

LINK

Why it’s Hot!

Grubhub, DoorDash, UberEats, etc. have created a huge benefit for consumers to easily have food delivered easy peasy, but whenever someone wins, somebody else usually loses. In this case the consumer is winning with food delivery wars creating tons of competition and incentives for us to have food delivered for a small fee and ultra convenience.

Well this story shows how it impacts these local restaurants with crazy fees that result in net losses in a low margin business to begin with. This brings to light if these disruptive digital businesses are viable with their high fees and increasing costs (higher minimum wage), etc.

DoorDash recently passed up GrubHub in revenue and eyeing an IPO, but for that convenience are small and local businesses going to be able to afford those fees or will only the larger establishments with high volume and margins be able to survive?

A monkey has been able to control a computer with his brain


Neuralink graphic
N1 sensor.
The N1 array in action.

Neuralink, the Elon Musk-led startup that the multi-entrepreneur founded in 2017, is working on technology that’s based around “threads,” which it says can be implanted in human brains with much less potential impact to the surrounding brain tissue versus what’s currently used for today’s brain-computer interfaces. “Most people don’t realize, we can solve that with a chip,” Musk said to kick off Neuralink’s event, talking about some of the brain disorders and issues the company hopes to solve.

Musk also said that, long-term, Neuralink really is about figuring out a way to “achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” He went on to say, “This is not a mandatory thing. This is something you can choose to have if you want.”

For now, however, the aim is medical, and the plan is to use a robot that Neuralink has created that operates somewhat like a “sewing machine” to implant this threads, which are incredibly thin (like, between 4 and 6 μm, which means about one-third the diameter of the thinnest human hair), deep within a person’s brain tissue, where it will be capable of performing both read and write operations at very high data volume.

These probes are incredibly fine, and far too small to insert by human hand. Neuralink has developed a robot that can stitch the probes in through an incision. It’s initially cut to two millimeters, then dilated to eight millimeters, placed in and then glued shut. The surgery can take less than an hour.

No wires poking out of your head
It uses an iPhone app to interface with the neural link, using a simple interface to train people how to use the link. It basically bluetooths to your phone,” Musk said.

Is there going to be a brain app store ? Will we have ads in our brain?
“Conceivably there could be some kind of app store thing in the future,” Musk said. While ads on phones are mildly annoying, ads in the brain could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Why it’s hot?
A.I.: you won’t be able to beat it, so join it
Interfacing our brains with machines may save us from an artificial intelligence doomsday scenario. According to Elon Musk, if we want to avoid becoming the equivalent of primates in an AI-dominated world, connecting our minds to computing capabilities is a solution that needs to be explored.

“This is going to sound pretty weird, but [we want to] achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” Musk said. “This is not a mandatory thing! This is a thing that you can choose to have if you want. I think this is going to be something really important at a civilization-scale level. I’ve said a lot about A.I. over the years, but I think even in a benign A.I. scenario we will be left behind.”

Think about the kind of “straight from the brain data” we would have at our disposal and how will we use it?

 

 

dr. google fails its boards…

It’s a behavior as old as the internet itself. Or at least as old as WebMD. People Googling symptoms and self-diagnosing themselves. Turns out that unsurprisingly, this is a worldwide phenomenon, and in Romania, 73% of people were doing it. So, to show Romanians they needed to SEE A DOCTOR ALREADY(!!!!!!!!!!1111), the private healthcare provider Regina Maria put Doctor Google to the test, literally. They gave it the same residency exam wannabe Romanian doctors have to pass in order to become certified. In no surprise to anyone, a prominent Romanian journalist Googling answers to the questions got a dismal 36 out of 200 correct – an 18% score.

According to the brand, “Regina Maria also made the test public for the rest of the country to take for themselves online. Those who didn’t pass were presented with a certificate of failure that could be used as a voucher within Regina Maria’s clinics.

To promote the Internet Residency Exam, Regina Maria created Google ads based on the most common symptoms people searched online and encouraged people to ask a real doctor instead.”

Why it’s Hot:

Instead of simply telling people Google isn’t good at helping you fix yourself, it dimensionalized just how poorly it does the job. One might intuitively accept that self-diagnosing and treating based on a Google search isn’t the best approach, but it’s a whole other thing to see how the knowledge you can glean from it compares with the knowledge of a doctor. Showing, not telling, is the most powerful way to make a point and change behavior.

Is FaceApp an Giant Russian Conspiracy… or Just an App with a Really Severe Privacy Policy

FaceApp has had it’s time in the sun over the past two years. Don’t you remember famous hits like “what you look like as a woman/man” or the very un PC “what you look like as another race”?

This week our entire feeds are filled with FaceApp photos of our friends if they were old. As well as warnings about how the tech is Russian. In our friends defense, the tech is VERY eerie.

https://twitter.com/yashar/status/1151311662592532480

Yes, the FaceApp tech has a very scary privacy/end user agreement:

But the best hot take of all comes from VICE… 

It’s not that the App is Russian is bad, it’s us allowing apps to have this much data about us at all…

“Extracting data from unsuspecting users, selling and sharing that data god-knows-where, and justifying it by providing users unreadable privacy policies is a near-universal practice. It transcends Cold War phobias. It’s not Russian. It’s not American. It’s a fundamentally capitalist practice. Companies can only provide free apps and profit if they scrape and share data from the people that use it.”

WHY ITS HOT?

We allow apps like Facebook, Instagram and snapchat to access much deeper levels of our data than they need, but it takes a true Russian scare to call us to action about this issue.

The WeWork for therapists

Alma: 
With increasing dialogue and concern about mental health in America, Alma, the recent recipient of $8m in funding, is aiming to improve the experience for both therapists and patients.

Providers can apply for membership then book rooms, flexibly – at their own convenience.
Additionally, “Alma provides members with a suite of services, such as billing, scheduling, and tools for treating patients over video chat”.  It also gives providers a place to create community. 

On the patient side of things, “Alma has a “matchmaker” on staff who specializes in mental health counseling, and is devoted to pairing patients with professionals that suit their specific needs.”

Why it’s hot:
As the idea of seeing a therapist and discussing mental health becomes increasingly normalized in society – few entities are doing anything to simplify and bring some level of uniformity to the experience.

How Unpredictable Is Your Subway Commute?

Recently published in NYTimes, this article is a great example of useful data visualization and interactive content.

While the key point is about the factor of variability as an overlooked aspect of commuting data (NYC as particularly guilty of a lot more variability than other cities), I thought the best part was the way they used data to tell a customized story while reporting on the variability aspect.

Source: NYTimes

Why It’s Hot: 

Great use of data visualization and personalized content

Veloretti Bikes courting car owners in Paris

Paris is Europe’s most polluted capital city. To prevent people from dying of particulate pollution, 2.7 million high-emissions cars are restricted from entering the city on weekdays — with hefty fines for noncompliance. If you work in the city, but can’t afford a new low-emissions car, this is a huge problem. You need to get into Paris, and may in theory also want to curb your emissions, but that’s not your main concern — you need to get to work! So what can you do? You’ll ride the train even though it’s a serious downgrade from your car. You might consider a bike, but making the switch to commuting by bike would require more of a nudge because it entails a bigger change in your lifestyle.

Amsterdam-based Veloretti bikes saw this as an opportunity to give car owners the nudge they needed to make that lifestyle change. They rode the wave of interest in clean mobility and sustainable urban transport during European Mobility Week 2018 by offering personalized bike discounts to 5 million Parisian car owners based on their car’s emissions ratings. This positioned the brand as not only helping car-owners, but helping the city itself solve its pollution problems.

The brand plugged the public database of license plates into a Shopify script, converting plates into coupon codes, which users could enter on Veloretti’s site. This gave Veloretti emissions information on a prospective bike-buyer’s car, which was used to automatically calculate a personalized discount at the POS. The worse the emissions score of your car, the deeper discount you got for a new Veloretti bike.

Seeing your car’s negative environmental impact at a time when both pollution and awareness of the need for clean mobility is at its peak in your city was coupled with a commensurate discount on a more sustainable transportation option.

Why it’s hot:

1. License plate discount is only revealed after user has placed a bike into their online cart. Commitment to purchase is strengthened as user sees their emissions score and subsequent discount.

2. Positioning their brand as a solution to pressures from macro forces and social trends (climate change, pollution, fines for driving in Paris, Mobility Week) at the time when awareness of these pressures was at its peak.

3. Highlighting a pain point with a competing product and immediately flipping it into a tangible financial benefit for their product — at the POS.

Read more: Contagious I/O

Google project Shoelace aims to connect people around shared interests

Screen Shot 2019 07 11 at 2.06.56 PM

A new project from Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120, aims to help people find things to do and others who share your same interests. Through a new app called Shoelace, users can browse through a set of hand-picked activities, or add their own to a map. For example, someone who wanted to connect with fellow dog owners could start an activity for a doggie playdate at the park, then start a group chat to coordinate the details and make new friends.

The end result feels a bit like a mashup of Facebook Events with a WhatsApp group chat, perhaps. But it’s wrapped in a clean, modern design that appeals more to the millennial or Gen Z user.

Why it’s hot:

If Shoelace is successful at bringing like-minded and like-interested people together, the functionality could be used by clients, like Enfamil, that are trying to inspire real-world and real-life connections between moms, in an authentic and less brand-centric way.

 

Source: New Google Area 120 project Shoelace aims to connect people around shared interests | TechCrunch

From Virtual Trees to Living Forests

Ant Forest is an app-based game that is sweeping across China. The game rewards users with green energy points for choosing low-carbon activities like taking public transportation or using less plastic. Once players have earned enough green energy, they can plant a virtual tree in Ant Forest. For every tree planted in the virtual game, a real tree is planted in rural China. The game’s creator says one-hundred million live trees have been planted so far.

Link to video

Why it’s hot: An idea that works like real life gratification of social changes and purpose-driven initiatives that would work well with the new generations of consumers.

Source

An 8-Bit Idea in a Quantum World

Game, Set Match?

In a world relentlessly focused on innovation, every once in a while a low-tech solution comes around that just makes us smile. While most digital marketers looking to capitalize on the global attention of an event like Wimbledon might set out to engineer the most whiz-bang interactive experience imaginable, one of the most whiz-bang companies in the world imagined something a whole lot less…well, “whiz-bang”. Google’s pong re-skin offers people searching for “Wimbledon scores” a delightfully low-tech distraction, that’s sure to get their attention.

Why It’s Hot

A strong testament to the importance of creative approaches to the full experience, vs the pure creative horsepower of an individual interaction. Smart, fast, effective.

“The doctor will see you now…”

Are voice assistants about to pivot from minor annoyances to truly helpful utilities? 

In an era of fake news and dubious digital sources of information, Amazon is trying to make it easier for people to access real expertise, using their Alexa voice assistant. Through a partnership with the National Health Service, they’ll help people get quick, “official” answers to some of their nagging medical questions.

Great news, for people who don’t have time to get to a doctor, or even focus their attention on a screen. Perhaps less-than-great news for people with privacy concerns associated with connected devices. For the rest of us, an interesting dilemma.

Why It’s Hot

Marketers are going to be challenged to balance tremendous new opportunities against a never-before-seen level of risk, as they explore new ways of interacting with consumers, alongside new revenue opportunities. The “winners” will disrupt their categories, to great competitive advantage, while the losers potentially lose it all.

Robot umpires make their professional baseball debut

At the independent Atlantic League’s all-star baseball game on Wednesday, the “electronic strike zone” made its professional baseball—and American—debut. According to Yahoo Sports, the robotic umpire, called TrackMan, helped home-plate umpire Brian deBrauwere assess whether pitches were balls or strikes via an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket. The iPhone was loaded up with the TrackMan computer system, which uses a Doppler radar to track the pitches. deBrauwere, positioned right behind home plate, called the pitches as he received the information from the program.

MLB claims the technology is intended to help busy home-plate umpires and pinky swears that human umps are still needed and is working with the union to keep everyone happy.

One pitcher told the AP that TrackMan called high strike zone pitches that human umpires frequently miss. Of course, players will only agree with the umpire until they disagree with the call, but that’s just part of baseball.

Why its hot

As a baseball fan, I can tell you a lot of fans are divided on this issue. Some want to see calls made correctly if there is the technology to ensure that happens. This was the main driver of the introduction of replay a few years ago. Others believe that the game should not be changed, regardless of what technology might exist, and that the human element is just part of it. Personally, I don’t like a robot umpire that makes the ‘correct’ call every time because I do like that human element, but only around balls and strikes. When it comes to replay, which governs things like fair or foul, or safe or out, I do want replay because those things are more grounded in fact than balls and strikes, which are more subjective. It’s an interesting discussion of where we will allow some possibility for error when when the technology to solve it exists.

Havaianas Makes a Shoppable Boardwalk Mural

For their latest campaign, “Step into Summer,” Havaianas collaborated with renowned street artist, Buff Monster, to transform the Venice Beach Boardwalk into an immersive art installation and shoppable AI experience.

The activation began with a 15′ x 85′ mural at Venice Beach, which was crafted from rubber to correspond with Havianas’ rubber-soled sandals. The brand then encouraged people to step onto the mural and scan their favorite part of the artwork via a microsite on mobile. The microsite uses Google Vision AI technology to identify that section of the mural, then it matches consumers with corresponding sandal styles to purchase.

Influencer partnerships helped to promote and support the activation.

Why it’s hot: OOH isn’t just about billboards anymore – it’s an opportunity to have people interact with your brand in new ways. Pairing mobile with OOH also opens the door for follow-up interactions, helping brands drive consumers down the marketing funnel.

Another thought – this is also a great way to fast track toward personalization / customization for new customers.

Uber Launches “Quiet Mode”

Yesterday, Uber launched a new tier of rides called “Uber Comfort.” The new service offers nicer vehicles, more highly rated drivers, and temperature and conversation preferences in exchange for a 20% to 40% premium over standard UberX fares.

When calling their car, users can request “quiet preferred” or “happy to chat” in their conversation preference, as well as warmer or colder temperatures. This isn’t Uber’s first primary feature. In fact, Uber now has 7 tiers — Express Pool, Pool, X, X Diamond, Comfort, Select, and Black. These increase in tiers allows Uber to charge more for slightly better vehicles, highly rated drivers or drivers that are willing to talk less and crank the AC.

Reactions to the launch of “Quiet Rides” have been mixed. Some people argue that forcing Uber drivers to bite their tongues is another example of Uber imposing harsh working conditions on its drivers. Critics consider the quiet option an affront to the dignity of the drivers, making them act like robots (in a job that will soon be threatened by self-driving cars). But other riders appreciate the consistency and control they have over their travel, especially business travelers, who say that they are able to be more productive en route to the airport or meetings. Supporters also point out that the new Comfort Mode allows drivers to earn an extra 20% for rides of the same duration and distance, making the silent treatment well worth their while.

Why it’s hot: Enabling these rider preferences could help Uber differentiate itself from competitors like Lyft and squeeze more cash out of passengers by training them to use its upgraded tiers. But on a more human level, this feature feels like a Black Mirror-esque development in technology that prevents us learning and using basic social skills.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/09/uber-comfort-quiet-ride/

How much would you pay to have a phone-free family dinner?

Parents around the country, are trying to turn back time to the era before smartphones. But it’s not easy to remember what exactly things were like before smartphones. So they’re hiring professionals.

The Screen-Free Parenting Economy

“Screen Consultants” come into homes, schools, churches and synagogues to remind parents how people parented before.

Some coaches in small cities and rural areas charge $80 an hour. In larger cities, rates range from $125 to $250. Parents typically sign up for eight to 12 sessions.

https://thescreentimeconsultant.com/

The No-Phone Pledge

In a movement reminiscent of the “virginity pledge” — a vogue in the late ’90s in which young people promised to wait until marriage to have sex, groups of parents are banding together and making public promises to withhold smartphones from their children until eighth grade.

https://www.concordpromise.org/

https://www.waituntil8th.org/

https://www.turninglifeon.org/

Why it’s hot?

My favorite reason why this is hot is this: The gap between rich and poor is now measured by the lack of tech. The rich are banning screens from schools, while public schools even offer digital-only preschools.

What does a world where those who get ahead, are the “have nots” rather than the “haves”?

Hint: Inside A Tech-Free School Where Tech Executives Send Their Kids

Buy now, pay later

To win over cash strapped Gen Z and Millennial shopper, apparel brands are launching buy now, pay later programs taking a cue from electronics and furniture companies that have long offered similar programs.

Abercrombie & Fitch — which in addition to its namesake brand also owns Abercrombie Kids and Hollister Co. — announced on July 1 it would partner with payment solution provider Klarna to enable shoppers to pay for purchases in installments. As part of the program, US consumers can opt to make up to four interest-free payments over the course of two months. They are one of many brands that are experimenting with this. In June 2018, Urban Outfitters announced it would offer Afterpay – a Klarna competitor that also offers interest-free installment options — opening up the program for all of its brands including Anthropologie and Free People.

While services like Klarna and Afterpay may seem like an appealing alternative to shelling out for a pricey dress or handbag, they can ultimately lead to shoppers paying more. Since multiple payments make a hefty price tag seem more palatable, consumers are more likely to pay full-price rather than wait for sales or discounts. This is, of course, intentional — Afterpay CEO Nick Molnar has said previously that the program has been proven to increase conversion rates and incremental sales by up to 30%.

“Consumers expect choice,” Pierson said. “Today they have options to rent clothing from places like Rent the Runway and they have different ways to buy. They’ve grown up with a lot of flexbility, so seeing something like this in fashion and apparel doesn’t seem unusual to them.”

Why it’s Hot

Paying in installments isn’t only for big ticket products anymore. As we work with our clients, especially when partnering with our eComm friends at Optaros, it’s important that we consider the best payment strategies that will convert customers.

Flights by the people. Miles for the people

Every week 600 members of Brazil’s congress fly to the nation’s federal capital, Brasília, to attend the seat of government. The country’s citizens pay for these flights with their taxes, but the politicians keep the air miles they earn. Reclame Aqui, Brazil’s leading consumer protection organization, campaigned to end this unfair practice. The company created a campaign to give these air miles back to the people who helped pay for them.


The Miles For The People platform displays and ranks congress members’ flight expenses and air miles, and Brazilian citizens can use the website to request some of those air miles for themselves.

Applicants must clearly state the reason they need the air miles (for example, surgery or exams). A board of lawyers at Reclame Aqui screens and reviews the documents, and selects applications based on their urgency. Approved applications are then sent to politicians who have sufficient air miles. Should the politician accept the request, they send boarding passes straight to the applicants’ smartphone.

Why its hot?
We are the network that enables brands to play a meaningful role in people’s lives and an agency that helps brands grow meaningful relationships with people. How can we bring ideas that help our clients like Cigna walk the walk?

 

Source: Contagious

Block Renovation: a new way to renovate

Block Renovation is a start-up in the home renovation services space – currently only focusing on bathroom renovations.

But they don’t employ any contractors themselves. Instead, it partners with licensed and insured contracting and architecture firms. It does however employ an in-house design team.

4 steps in starting the renovation:

  1. Get a free estimate by answering a few multiple choice questions on their website
  2. Share photos and videos of your space
  3. Your renovation is prepared by designers and architects
  4. Rapid build begins by a contractor from their vetted network

Why it’s hot: It’s all about the customer experience and entrepreneurs are looking to improve the customer experience even in more blue-collar service industries.

Can ‘Big Data’ Help Fight Big Fires? Firefighters Are Betting on It

As out-of-control wildfires in the West grow more frequent and more intense, fire departments in Southern California are looking to big data and artificial intelligence to enhance the way they respond to these disasters.

The marriage of computing, brawn and speed, they hope, may help save lives.

For about 18 months the Los Angeles fire department has been testing a program developed by the WiFire Lab at the San Diego Supercomputer Center that makes fast predictions about where active fires will spread next. The program, known as FireMap, pulls together real-time information about topography, flammable materials and weather conditions, among other variables, from giant government data sets and on-the-ground sensors.

When firefighters across the city are dispatched to respond to brush fires, the department’s leaders at headquarters now run the WiFire program as part of their initial protocol. Then, WiFire’s servers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center in La Jolla crunch the numbers, and the program turns out a predictive map of the fire’s expected trajectory. Those maps can then be transmitted electronically from headquarters to incident commanders on the ground.

The program can make sophisticated calculations in minutes that would take hours to run manually, said Ilkay Altintas, the chief data science officer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

Source: NYTimes

Why It’s Hot

Good example of data being put to life-saving use.

Shuttershock Gets Strange…Imagines Stranger Things 3 with Only Stock Imagery

In preparation for the July 4 release of Netflix’s Stranger Things 3, Shutterstock has gotten in on the world of the Upside Down by releasing its own version made entirely of Shutterstock stock footage.

Via Adweek:

If you’re eagerly awaiting the July 4 debut of Stranger Things’ third season—dubbed Stranger Things 3—on Netflix, Shutterstock is hoping it can quench your thirst with a version of its own, made entirely from stock footage.

The stock-footage company’s new campaign, Strange Things, intended to parody the science-fiction horror aesthetic that’s made Stranger Things a pop-culture phenomenon and the recipient of dozens of awards nominations.

“Enjoy binge watching strange things?” the ad for Shutterstock reads as an ominous synth plays. “Well, you’re in luck. We have millions of strange things. Like 80’s things, shady things, upside down things—and even stranger things.”

Save for the iconic cast of the show, the video—made entirely from Shutterstock’s own assets—points to the breadth of the company’s stock-footage library.

Try On a New Lipstick… On YouTube

For those of us who go down YouTube Makeup tutorial rabbit holes, like myself. It’s easy to get discouraged that you don’t have the color to look for yourself… that’s half the point of watching the video.

Well, YouTube has a solve for that (and for makeup brands who want to sell product). Try on while you watch!

“The feature is currently in the very early stages of development — alpha testing — and is being offered to YouTube creators through Google’s  in-house branded content program, FameBit. Through this program, brands are connected with YouTube influencers who market their products through paid sponsorships.”

YouTube has already found that 30% of viewers chose to try the experience when it was available on the iOS app. And those who tried spent an average of more than 80s engaging with the tool.

YouTube’s new AR Beauty Try-On lets viewers virtually try on makeup while watching video reviews

Why it’s hot?

A mix of VR and ecom! This beauty try-on gets over a big makeup hurdle. However this is not totally new. This is something sephora has done on their website, but it’s a much harder UI, this new way with YouTube should score google some extra referral cash, and users entering buy pages would be much more primed.

A New Purpose for the Mannequin Challenge

Back in 2016, the “Mannequin Challenge” took over the Internet, with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Beyoncé posting videos of themselves standing still in various scenarios. Google is now using these videos to train their AI.

One of the top challenges with AI is teaching machines how to move through unfamiliar surroundings. By training machines to interpret 2D videos as 3D scenes, it can help them understand the depth of a 2D image. Google has decided to leverage the thousands of YouTube videos of the Mannequin Challenge as a data source to help machines understand depth since the videos show people posing from all different angles.

Why It’s Hot

These learnings will be particularly useful in AI for self-driving cars.

Source: https://www.technologyreview.com/f/613888/if-you-did-the-mannequin-challenge-you-are-now-advancing-robotics-research/

Learn by playing: Understanding media manipulation

DROG, a media consultancy focused on resisting disinformation, created Bad News, an online game that guides the player through all the steps one might take to create a fake-news media outlet, from initial frustration to full-blown outrage machine.

In taking on the persona of a media manipulator and walking through the choices that lead to the most effective (read: worst) outcome, the player learns the tactics used by promoters of disinformation and becomes (hopefully) better equipped to avoid falling victim to extremist thinking.

By the end of the game, you’ve created a fake-news machine with the power to dupe mainstream news outlets and sway public opinion. You feel kinda gross inside, but also more empowered to combat media manipulation!

There’s also a seamless in-game survey to gather data about media literacy that has players rate the credibility of various tweets.

Why it’s hot? Exposes the nuts and bolts of media manipulation through experiential learning. If you know how manipulation functions, you’re less likely to fall for it.

The story is presented in a fun, interactive way that uses the player’s choices to deliver the message. This experience imprints the message in a multivalent way, engaging more parts of the brain at once, and is thus more memorable than passive media, and encourages more sharing and more engagement.

crayons teach a lesson in humanity…

In Japan, 79% of people associate the word for skin tone (“hada-iro”) with just one color. Mixed race children can often feel alienated for looking different. So Japanese cosmetics brand Shiseido did something to show Japan’s youth that everyone is different but equal. It created a special box of crayons by “scanning a group of schoolchildren’s skin in order to create their unique hada-iro profile…and creating crayons that matched the children’s individual skin tones.”

Why it’s hot:

Besides making a beautiful point, Shiseido did it without having to say a word. By simply seeing all the different shades of skin after their faces were scanned, kids would immediately see that there is no “one true color”, and in fact, they were all different. Proving once again that showing, not telling, is an even more powerful way to convey a message.

[Source]

Facebook announces new cryptocurrency

This week, Facebook revealed their plan to create Calibra, an alternative financial services system that will rely on Libra, its own cryptocurrency powered by blockchain technology. Facebook is planning to launch Calibra’s first product by the first half of 2020 – a digital wallet app that will also be built into WhatsApp and Messenger, allowing users to buy things and send money.

But how will this work? In a nutshell, people will be able to cash in local currency at local exchange points, get Libra, spend it like its normal money (but without high transaction fees or their identity), and then cash out whenever they want.

To protect users’ privacy, Calibra will handle all crypto dealings and store payments data. As a result, users’ data from Libra payments will never mix with their Facebook data and will not be used for ad targeting.

According to Facebook, Libra is meant to address the challenges of global financial services and promote financial inclusion. For example, today about 1.7 billion adults remain without access to a bank account and $50 billion are lost annually  due to exploitative remittance service charges. With Libra, people will be able to send and receive money at low to no cost, small businesses will be able to accept digital payments without credit card fees, and overall financial services will be more accessible.

However, despite these potential benefits, Facebook’s venture into the financial services industry has raised some concerns. People are questioning Facebook’s motives as well as the usefulness, stability and transparency of cryptocurrencies. Furthermore, given Facebook’s troubled history with privacy breaches, its commitment to protecting user-data and privacy is under scrutiny.

Why it’s hot: 

This is the first time a “mainstream” company attempts to get involved in the world of cryptocurrencies and, if all goes to plan, this new digital currency could fundamentally change global financial systems forever.

Sources: FacebookTechCrunch

How modern life is transforming the human skeleton

Mobile technology has transformed the way we live — how we read, work, communicate, shop and date.

But we already know this.

What we have not yet grasped is the way the tiny machines in front of us are remolding our skeletons, possibly altering not just the behaviors we exhibit but the bodies we inhabit.

New research in biomechanics suggests that young people are developing hornlike spikes at the back of their skulls — bone spurs caused by the forward tilt of the head, which shifts weight from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head, causing bone growth in the connecting tendons and ligaments. The weight transfer that causes the buildup can be compared to the way the skin thickens into a callus as a response to pressure or abrasion.

The result is a hook or hornlike feature jutting out from the skull, just above the neck.

In academic papers, a pair of researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, argues that the prevalence of the bone growth in younger adults points to shifting body posture brought about by the use of modern technology. They say smartphones and other handheld devices are contorting the human form, requiring users to bend their heads forward to make sense of what’s happening on the miniature screens.

The researchers said their discovery marks the first documentation of a physiological or skeletal adaptation to the penetration of advanced technology into everyday life.

Why it’s hot: Should human bodies adapt to technology or should it adapt to us?

Source

Siri Is Listening to You Have a Heart Attack

In the not-too-distant future you may be able to ask Siri if you’re having a heart attack—even if you’re not touching the device.

Because smart speakers are always passively listening, anticipating being called into action with a “Hey Google” or “Alexa!” they are the perfect device for listening for changes in breathing. So if someone starts gasping and making so-called “agonal breathing” (add that to your Scrabble repertoire) the smart speaker can call for help. Agonal breathing is described by co-author Dr. Jacob Sunshine as “a sort of a guttural gasping noise” that is so unique to cardiac arrest that it makes “a good audio biomarker.” According to a press release, about 50% of people who experience cardiac arrest have agonal breathing and since Alexa and Google are always listening, they can be taught to monitor for its distinctive sound.

On average, the proof-of-concept tool detected agonal breathing events 97% of the time from up to 20 feet away.

Why is it so good at detecting agonal breathing? Because the team created it using a dataset of agonal breathing captured from real 911 calls.

“A lot of people have smart speakers in their homes, and these devices have amazing capabilities that we can take advantage of,” said co-author Shyam Gollakota. “We envision a contactless system that works by continuously and passively monitoring the bedroom for an agonal breathing event, and alerts anyone nearby to come provide CPR. And then if there’s no response, the device can automatically call 911.”

Why its hot

What other medical emergencies can be diagnosed through voice products like Siri? We saw the OOH unit that diagnosed dog health issues with their pee. Could there be an in-house doctor that analyzes your health without having to even see a doctor in person?

A Case of Mistaken Identity

With over 20K signatures, accusations against the TV show “Good Omens” are causing a raucous. A US Christian group called the Return to Order has launched a petition to cancel the show saying it presents “devils and Satanists as normal and even good, where they merely have a different way of being, and mocks God’s wisdom.”

Protests and requests for show cancelations are not rare or new. So what’s causing the raucous? The group has petitioned Netflix to cancel a show on Amazon Prime Video.

Why it’s hot:

Brand recognition is EVERYTHING!