PayPal to allow customers to buy and sell cryptocurrencies

On Wednesday, PayPal announced it would start offering users the ability to buy, sell, and hold cryptocurrencies through their online wallets. The company also said it would allow its 26 million merchants use cryptocurrency for payments.

At first, users will be able to buy four cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin. This functionality will go live for U.S. users “in the coming weeks.” PayPal says it will expand these features to its social payments service Venmo, as well as internationally, in the first half of 2021.

In a press release, PayPal noted accelerated adoption of digital payments, driven by increased interest in digital currencies and the COVID-19 pandemic. PayPal also stated that mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies has “traditionally been hindered by their limited utility as an instrument of exchange due to volatility, cost and speed to transact,” but quoted a survey by the Bank for International Settlements as saying that one in 10 central banks expect to issue their own digital currencies within the next three years.

Why it’s hot:

This new PayPal feature, coupled with the digital shift that has already accelerated due to COVID-19, could represent a huge shift in the world of cryptocurrency and digital payment. The general population has been slow to adopt cryptocurrency, but could this mainstream visibility be the turning point?

Source

Big Auto Doubling Down on Big Data

Source: ZDNet.com

Ford’s new CEO eyes software, tech stack as differentiator vs. rivals

New Ford CEO Jim Farley’s plan for the automaker includes a heavy dose of software and services for its commercial vehicle business as well as new consumer experiences to drive loyalty.

Why It’s Hot // The convergence always-on connection and data commercialization brings a world of new opportunities to marketers and brands seeking to redefine their businesses – while also adding fuel the the fiery debate about the trade-offs between privacy and personalized experiences.

Tech and the future of transportation: From here to there

Ford, which is in the middle of a turnaround of its core business, is trying to navigate a shift to electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles as well as an industry that is increasingly more about software. Farley takes over for Jim Hackett, who streamlined the automaker over the last three years.

Farley outlined a series of leadership changes and a plan that includes “expanding its commercial vehicle business with a suite of software services that drive loyalty and recurring revenue streams” and “unleashing technology and software in ways that set Ford apart from competitors.”

In addition, Ford is looking to develop connected vehicles and create new businesses from the Argo AI self-driving system.

Ford is also looking for a new CIO as Jeff Lemmer is retiring Jan. 1. His successor will lead Ford’s technology and software platform.

The tech strategy from Farley lands after a Sept. 16 investor presentation by Kenneth Washington CTO. Washington outlined the connectivity required from smart vehicles in the future that will include 5G, satellites and edge, cloud, and fog computing.

ford-connectivity.png

Washington added that Ford has hired more than 3,000 advanced computing experts to work on the tech stack and surrounding technologies including things like smart cities, mobility services, edge computing, and analytics.

ford-tech-stack.png

He said:

If you were to tear down a future Ford, say, 10 years from now, the biggest difference you’d see is that the software, compute and sensing services are being serviced by a central compute module. And that’s really important because that’s more like we’re accustomed to seeing with the smartphones and the smart devices that we surround ourselves in our homes with every day. So this design that you would see would enable us to really leverage the power of high bandwidth connectivity that happens around the vehicle.

In the future, vehicle changes will be handled with updates via software and algorithms instead of hardware, said Washington. These updates would start with software, but design of electrical architecture as well as shared memory and power systems for various zones of the vehicle would be critical.

Other key points about Ford’s tech stack include:

  • Ford uses QNX, Autosar and Linux to develop is operating system and tech stack.
  • The automaker builds on top of that OS with middleware from its internal software team.
  • In 2020, Ford began equipping most of its redesigned vehicles with the ability for advanced over-the-air updates.
  • The data from those updates on vehicles like the F-150 and Bronco will help Ford iterate.
  • There are 5 million Ford connected vehicles in the field today.
  • Ford sees opportunities in services to optimizes Ford fleets for small business owners.

Levi’s launches used-jeans shopping ecosystem

From Green Matters:

Levi’s Secondhand is one of the first buyback initiatives of its kind.

Levi’s latest sustainability efforts have lead the brand to launch a buyback program called Levi’s Secondhand, which incentivizes customers to buy and sell secondhand. Customers can trade in old pieces for a gift card, according to HypeBeast, and their used clothes then go up for sale on the company’s Levi’s Secondhand website. Levi’s also will handpick some vintage items, and feature them on the website, selling them from $30 to $150 USD.

According to Vogue, Levi’s is the first major denim brand to start a buyback initiative.

This could really make a difference, regarding the company’s annual carbon footprint.

For Levi’s Secondhand, the company has partnered with an e-commerce start-up called Trove, who will handle logistics, cleaning, inventory processing, and delivery, and it seems as though their joined efforts will make a major impact on the company’s carbon emissions. According to MR Mag, each pair of used jeans sold will save approximately 80 percent of CO2 emissions, as well as 700 grams of waste, compared to buying new jeans.

Levi’s joins the continuously growing resale market, which is predicted to skyrocket from $32 billion in 2020, to $51 billion by 2023, as emphasis on environmental consciousness continues to rise among brands and buyers, according to Fast Company. Because the fashion industry contributes about 10 percent of global carbon emissions, as well as 20 percent of global water waste, this initiative is incredibly important.

Not the first buy-back or second hand initiative from a brand. Patagonia has been doing their Worn Wear resell program for some time.

A unique challenge: Shopping second hand, online, across the decades. Since sizing has changed over time, how do you know your size is your size on a pair of vintage Levi’s?

Why it’s hot:

1. There’s a tacit implication of quality and longevity in a program that buys back clothes and resells them, which aligns perfectly with Levi’s value proposition as a brand.

2. One of the challenges of sustainability is how brands can spin the idea into something beneficial to the consumer, without losing money. Levi’s has leaned into the “shop used” to save the earth meme as the value proposition without giving consumers much in return, and while at the same time, capturing the value of the returned jeans for the brand, in the form of a gift card for future purchase.

 

Source: Green Matters

 

Working Den Helps Prevent Burnout

One-third of workers globally are experiencing increased burnout during the pandemic. Although burnout has been a topic for decades, with livingrooms becoming conference rooms, the lack of separation between work and life has become the #1 workplace stressor.

Yet even though burnout is pervasive and can result in everything from insomnia to high blood pressure, it’s one of those issues employees often feel they can’t talk to their employers about.

Source: Trendwatching

Filled with tools to help remote workers maintain healthy routines, Working Den has launched as a free service. Designed to be used throughout the workday, at launch, the service includes:

  • Exercise and stretching guides
  • Calming nature videos
  • Playlists of background noise
  • Mental health assessment quizzes
  • Pomodoro productivity timer
  • Eye-strain reduction notification system

New features like the ability to pair users up with one another to answer questions and as a way to combat loneliness are on the way.

Additional source: Fast Company

Why it’s hot: Although the site still has some rough edges, the site offers great value to those thrust into the deep end of working from home.

 

LA star chefs re-imagine the drive-thru for the fine-dining set

Ten of L.A.’s most beloved restaurants will come together to serve diners—in a way that you’ve never experienced them before, designed with COVID precautions in mind.

In partnership with American Express® Gold Card, Resy is transforming the exterior of the Hollywood Palladium into a whimsical labyrinth, which you’ll drive through to visit each restaurant pop-up. Don’t worry about leaving your car; each dish will be handed to you at each local restaurant’s pit stop. -Resy

Restaurants have had to reinvent themselves during Covid, with fine dining hit particularly hard since its value prop comes largely from the atmosphere and experience it creates, which is very difficult to replicate under covid restrictions.

From Fast Company:

The restaurant industry has been pummeled by the pandemic, prompting a wave of creative new dining ideas across the country, from bars offering carry-0ut cocktail mixes to pizzerias transforming into produce stands. Now, 10 well-known Los Angeles chefs are joining forces in an ambitious new experiment.

On October 15 and 16, restaurant tech platform Resy is hosting a 10-course drive-through dinner at the Hollywood Palladium catered by these chefs that could be a model for bringing high-end restaurants back to life. “This could be done in any city,” says Mei Lin, chef and owner of Nightshade. “It would require organization and logistics, but it’s possible.”

The event, called the Resy Drive Thru, is sponsored by American Express. Diners will stay in their cars and move through a track made up of 10 stations, where they’ll be served one course prepared by each of the 10 restaurants.

Guests will be served food in single-use containers and given a tray to eat on, which is theirs to keep. Each car will have its own designated waiter who will guide them through the process. (All event personnel will wear gloves, masks, and face shields; they’ll also be tested for COVID-19 before they arrive at the event, and will have their temperature taken at the door.) The entire experience costs $95 per person, and can be purchased in groups of up to four in a single vehicle. There is room for 600 guests over two nights.

It was obvious from the start that it wasn’t possible to mimic the charm or elegance of a dining room, but this project prompts chefs to think outside the box.ng

The dining industry is currently being devastated by COVID-19, particularly restaurants that don’t have pandemic-friendly options, like outdoor seating or take-out and delivery. The sector has already lost $120 billion and is expected to reach $240 billion by the end of the year. More than six million jobs have been permanently cut.

Why it’s hot: Fine dining is all about having a special experience that rises above the typical and the common. It’s interesting to see how these fine dining restaurants are trying to achieve that proposition during covid, and how they make — and sell — a unique experience to potential guests.

Source: Fast Company

Life Beyond the Cookie

With 3rd-party slowly-but-surely going the way of the dodo, the drive for marketers to develop data strategies that accelerate 1st-party data growth and utilization is fast becoming an existential imperative.

WHY IT’S HOT:  Relationships and Relevance will matter more than ever, as marketers of all shapes and sizes strive to survive and thrive in a fundamentally changed world. (From “nice-to-have” to “mission-critical”)

From Digiday:

‘Re-architecting the entire process’: How Vice is preparing for life after the third-party cookie

Vice Media Group pulls in 57.5 million global unique visitors a month, according to Comscore; Vice itself says it has a global audience of “more than 350 million individuals.” But only a minority of those users are logged in at any time. With third-party cookies soon to be obsolete and Apple clamping down on the free-for-all sharing of mobile IDs, Vice’s first-party data strategy aims to improve its registration process and double down on contextual ads.

In the latest example of bolstering its first-party data offering for advertisers, Vice Media Group is using a new tool from consumer reporting agency Experian and data platform Infosum.

That tool, Experian Match, those companies say, offers publishers more insights on their audiences without needing to use third-party cookies or requiring users to log in. In turn, they can offer advertisers more precision targeting options.

“What interests me the most is that there’s so much bias within data — for example, proxies to get into the definition [of an a target audience on an advertiser brief],” said Ryan Simone, Vice Media director of global audience solutions. “We are looking to eliminate bias in every instance. If a client says ‘this specific … group is what we are looking for,’ we can say on Vice — not through the proxies of third-party data or other interpretation’ that product A [should target] this content, this audience [and that’s] different from product B. It’s a much more sophisticated strategy and re-architecting the entire process.”

Publishers provide a first-party ID, IP address and timestamp data, which is matched with Experian’s own IP address and household-level socio-demographic data. This initial match is used to create the Experian Match mapping file, which is then stored in a decentralized data “bunker.” From here, all matching takes place using InfoSum’s decentralized marketing infrastructure, with publishers creating their own private and secure ”bunkers” and advertisers doing likewise, so individual personal customer data is never shared between publishers and advertisers.

Privacy and security were important considerations before committing to use the product, said Paul Davison, Vice Media Group vice president of agency development, for international in statement. But, he added, “Those concerns are solved instantly as no data has to be moved between companies.”

As for login data, Vice’s user registration process is fairly basic and doesn’t offer users much explanation about the benefits they will receive if they do so. Updating that is a work in progress, said Simone.

“There will be a lot more front-facing strategy” for encouraging sign-ups, he said. “We are looking to create greater value …. for our users.” (The company also collects first-party data through newsletters and experiential events, such as those held —pre-covid, at least — by Refinery29.)

Vice has worked with contextual intelligence platform Grapeshot long before it was acquired by Oracle in 2018. Beyond offering advertisers large audiences around marquee segments like “fashion” or “music,” Vice has begun working more recently to open up more prescriptive subsegments — like “jewelry” for example.

“People are scared to send out smaller audiences — but I’d rather provide something that’s exact. Opening that up provides greater insights,” especially when layered with first-party data sets gleaned through partnerships like Experian and Infosum, said Simone.  Vice might not have a wealth of content around high fashion, for example, but consumers of a particular fashion house might still visit the site to read about politics or tech.

“Contextual has evolved and with the absence of the third-party cookie it’s all the more significant,” said Simone.

Publishers’ biggest differentiating features for advertisers are their audiences and the context within their ads will sit, said Alessandro De Zanche, founder of media consultancy ADZ Strategies.

“If they really want to progress and be more in control, publishers need to go back to the basics: rebuilding trust with the audience, being transparent, educating the audience on why they should give you consent — that’s the very first — then building on top of that,” De Zanche said.

“With all the technical changes and privacy regulations, if a publisher doesn’t rebuild the relationship and interaction with its audience, it will just be like trying to Sellotape their way forward.”

What it takes to launch a new fast-fashion collection? A brand partnership, a pop star and 6 new Instagram AR filters

Remember when Target released their insanely popular and highly anticipated partnership with Zac Posen? Back then, the existence of that partnership alone drove enough PR and excitement to make that launch an astronomical success.

Fast forward to today. H&M is dropping its new collection in partnership with Kangol. But that is certainly not enough to entice Gen Z today. Beyond the new partnership and, of course, clothing collection, the brands partnered with British pop start Mabel – not just as a spokesperson but – to create a music video along with new 6 AR-filters that allow people to star in their own music videos (and H&M social channels). Basically, H&M’s new collection is a Tik-Tok campaign on Insta.

Gen Z’s fashion trends have also dramatically changed since Covid as nearly half of young consumers say that COVID has changed the kind of clothing they shop for, according to according to YPulse’s new fashion and style report. Since the start of the pandemic, quarantined young consumers have helped create a loungewear and athleisure boom, and their fashion interests have been changing. The pandemic has spurred at-home fashion trends, and Glossy reported that young shoppers now prefer “comfortable, seasonless” fashion over “runway trends” so H&M/Kangol’s new line will likely also appeal to them based on the cool, laid-back, 90’s nostalgic vibe of this collection.

Why it’s hot: Fast fashion keeps getting ‘faster’ with evolving consumer trends and needs

Facebook is Watching… for Research

~100 Facebook employees will be wearing AR research glasses at work, at home, and in public around San Francisco and Seattle to gather data about how the glasses perceive the world and what kind of privacy considerations they may need to make people feel comfortable around them.

The goal of these? To help Facebook develop a pair of augmented reality glasses that can layer 3D graphics and information over the wearer’s view of the real world. The eventual goal is to create a device that will enable virtual social interactions, like being able to have a lifelike conversation with a faraway friend who’s projected across from you at your kitchen table.

The Facebook employees participating in “Project Aria” will use their test glasses to gather data that will help the company’s researchers and engineers understand how AR can work in terms of tech and of the privacy protection users will demand, obviously being a huge concern for Facebook product users.

How this research will work: The glasses capture video and audio from the wearer’s point of view while collecting data from the sensors in the glasses that track where the wearer’s eyes are going.

“We’ve just got to get it out of the lab and get it into real-world conditions, in terms of [learning about] light, in terms of weather, and start seeing what that data looks like with the long-term goal of helping us inform [our product],” says Andrew Bosworth, vice president and head of Facebook Reality Labs, who is overseeing the project.

The research disclaimer: The wearer of the research glasses will wear a shirt that identifies them as Facebook employees working on an AR research project and it will show a website where people can get more information. The research glasses will display a noticeable white light that indicates when data is being collected, and the devices will have a physical mute button that will shut down the sensors and microphones.

“We’ll also start to think through the privacy conversation that’s going to be so important when we get to augmented reality,” Bosworth says.

Why it’s hot? Facebook is constantly at the center of data privacy controversies and this will likely bring up the same concerns. Time will tell how “secure” this data is.

Source: FastCo

QVC is back on top? Facebook and Amazon bring us Live Shopping with Influencers

You could already get hot deals on Amazon through Amazon Live. Facebook is now following suit.

Enter FB/IG live shopping. Where social sellers can sell items live in real time. It harkens back to a simpler time, but now instead of calling and paying in increments you click and afterpay?

Why it’s hot?

Utilizing user behavior that’s so native with new digital tools is exciting. The team is interested in seeing if this helps brands improve their ecommerce objectives.

Walmart tests drone deliveries for household goods and groceries

Walmart has started making its first deliveries by drone, launching a small pilot program this week in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The retailer will be delivering “select grocery and household essential items” using automated drones operated by Israeli startup Flytrex. Walmart has offered few details on the program, including how many drones are involved in the pilot and what checks (if any) customers need to make before receiving a delivery.

Each of the drones can fly at speeds of 32 mph, travel distances of 6.2 miles in a round trip, and carry up to 6.6 pounds (that’s roughly “6-8 hamburgers,” according to converted units offered on Flytrex’s website).

But don’t expect to see drones from Walmart (or any other retailer) buzzing over city streets any time soon. As Flytrex mentions on its website, its aircraft are “designed for the suburbs.”

Why it’s Hot:

There’s been talk of using drone delivery for years now, but was COVID-19 the final push toward making it a reality? And, what would it take for this to become the standard for delivery (even if just in suburban/rural areas)?

Source

What won’t Amazon know about us…?

Amazon Announces a New Fitness Tracker

Amazon’s new fitness band adds body fat, movement, sleep and mood to the mountain of data Amazon is amassing. Whether streaming on Amazon Prime, shopping on Amazon.com, buying groceries at Whole Foods, Amazon is ready to…errrr…help?

Why it’s Hot – The increasing convergence of our digital and analog lives is brining the questions of privacy and data sovereignty to the forefront, while also creating new potential opportunities for marketers (just think about what a partnership between Microsoft and Walmart to buy TikTok could mean).

From The Verge:

mazonAmazon is getting into the health gadget market with a new fitness band and subscription service called Halo. Unlike the Apple Watch or even most basic Fitbits, the Amazon Halo band doesn’t have a screen. The app that goes along with it comes with the usual set of fitness tracking features along with two innovative — and potentially troubling — ideas: using your camera to create 3D scans for body fat and listening for the emotion in your voice.

The Halo band will cost $99.99 and the service (which is required for Halo’s more advanced features) costs $3.99 per month. Amazon is launching it as an invite-only early access program today with an introductory price of $64.99 that includes six months of the service for free. The Halo service is a separate product that isn’t part of Amazon Prime.

The lack of a screen on the Halo band is the first indicator that Amazon is trying to carve out a niche for itself that’s focused a little less on sports and exercise and a little more on lifestyle changes. Alongside cardio, sleep, body fat, and voice tone tracking, a Halo subscription will offer a suite of “labs” developed by partners. They’re short challenges designed to improve your health habits — like meditation, improving your sleep habits, or starting up basic exercise routines.

The Halo band “is not a medical device,” Amazon tells me. As such, it hasn’t submitted the device to the FDA for any sort of approval, including the lighter-touch “FDA clearance” that so many other fitness bands have used.

The Amazon Halo intro video | Source: Amazon

THE HALO BAND HARDWARE

TheThe Halo Band consists of a sensor module and a band that clicks into it on top. It’s a simple concept and one we’ve seen before. The lack of a display means that if you want to check your steps or the time, you’ll need to strap something else to your wrist or just check your phone.

The three color options for the Halo Band
The three color options for the Halo Band
 Amazon
Amazon will sell lots of different band styles and colors
Amazon will sell lots of different band styles and colors
 Amazon

The band lacks increasingly standard options like GPS, Wi-Fi, or a cellular radio, another sign that it’s meant to be a more laid-back kind of tracker. It has an accelerometer, a temperature sensor, a heart rate monitor, two microphones, an LED indicator light, and a button to turn the microphones on or off. The microphones are not for speaking to Alexa, by the way, they’re there for the voice tone feature. There is explicitly no Alexa integration.

It communicates with your phone via Bluetooth, and it should work equally well with both iPhones and Android phones. The three main band colors that will be sold are onyx (black), mineral (light blue), and rose gold (pink-ish).

There will of course be a series of optional bands so you can choose one to match your style — and all of them bear no small resemblance to popular Apple Watch bands. The fabric bands will cost $19.99 and the sport bands will be $15.99.

Amazon intends for users to leave the Halo Band on all the time: the battery should last a full week and the sensor is water resistant up to 5ATM. Amazon calls it “swimproof.”

But where the Halo service really differentiates itself is in two new features, called Body and Tone. The former uses your smartphone camera to capture a 3D scan of your body and then calculate your body fat, and the latter uses a microphone on the Halo Band to listen to the tone of your voice and report back on your emotional state throughout the day.

Halo’s body scanning feature, which calculates body fat percentage.
Halo’s body scanning feature, which calculates body fat percentage.
 Amazon

BODY SCANS

BodyBody scans work with just your smartphone’s camera. The app instructs you to wear tight-fitting clothing (ideally just your underwear) and then stand back six feet or so from your camera. Then it takes four photos (front, back, and both sides) and uploads them to Amazon’s servers where they’re combined into a 3D scan of your body that’s sent back to your phone. The data is then deleted from Amazon’s servers.

Halo scans your body with four photos
Halo scans your body with four photos
 Amazon video

Once you have the 3D scan, Amazon uses machine learning to analyze it and calculate your body fat percentage. Amazon argues that body fat percentage is a more reliable indicator of health than either weight or body mass index. Amazon also claims that smart scales that try to measure body fat using bioelectrical impedance are not as accurate as its scan. Amazon says it did an internal study to back up those claims and may begin submitting papers to peer-reviewed medical journals in the future.

Finally, once you have your scan, the app will give you a little slider you can drag your finger on to have it show what you would look like with more or less body fat.

Halo uses AI in Amazon’s cloud to create the 3D scan and calculate body fat percentage
Halo uses AI in Amazon’s cloud to create the 3D scan and calculate body fat percentage
 Amazon video

That feature is meant to be educational and motivational, but it could also be literally dangerous for people with body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia, or other self-image issues. I asked Amazon about this directly and the company says that it has put in what it hopes are a few safeguards: the app recommends you only scan yourself every two weeks, it won’t allow the slider to show dangerously low levels of body fat, and it has information about how low body fat can increase your risk for certain health problems. Finally, although anybody 13 years of age and up can use the Halo Band, the body scan feature will only be allowed for people 18 or older.

Halo listens to your voice and guesses at your emotional state
Halo listens to your voice and guesses at your emotional state
 Amazon video

TRACKING THE TONE OF YOUR VOICE

TheThe microphone on the Amazon Halo band isn’t meant for voice commands; instead it listens to your voice and reports back on what it believes your emotional state was throughout the day. If you don’t opt in, the microphone on the Band doesn’t do anything at all.

Once you opt in, the Halo app will have you read some text back to it so that it can train a model on your voice, allowing the Halo band to only key in on your tone and not those around you. After that, the band will intermittently listen to your voice and judge it on metrics like positivity and energy.

It’s a passive and intermittent system, meaning that you can’t actively ask it to read your tone, and it’s not listening all of the time. You can also mute the mic at any time by pressing the button until a red blinking LED briefly appears to show you it’s muted.

Amazon is quick to note that your voice is never uploaded to any servers and never heard by any humans. Instead, the band sends its audio snippets to your phone via Bluetooth, and it’s analyzed there. Amazon says that the Halo app immediately deletes the voice samples after it analyzes it for your emotional state.

It picks up on the pitch, intensity, rhythm, and tempo of your voice and then categorizes them into “notable moments” that you can go back and review throughout the day. Some of the emotional states include words like hopeful, elated, hesitant, bored, apologetic, happy, worried, confused, and affectionate.

We asked Amazon whether this Tone feature was tested across differing accents, gender, and cultures. A spokesperson says that it “has been a top priority for our team” but that “if you have an accent you can use Tone but your results will likely be less accurate. Tone was modeled on American English but it’s only day one and Tone will continue to improve.”

The Halo app’s main screen
The Halo app’s main screen
 Amazon

DATA PRIVACY

BothBoth the Body and Tone features are innovative uses of applied AI, but they are likely to set off any number of privacy alarm bells. Amazon says that it is being incredibly careful with user data. The company will post a document detailing every type of data, where it’s stored, and how to delete it.

Every feature is opt-in, easy to turn off, and it’s easy to delete data. For example, there’s no requirement you create a body scan and even if you do, human reviewers will never see those images. Amazon says the most sensitive data like body scans and Tone data are only stored locally (though photos do need to temporarily be uploaded so Amazon’s servers can build the 3D model). Amazon isn’t even allowing Halo to integrate with other fitness apps like Apple Health at launch.

Some of the key points include:

  • Your Halo profile is distinct from your Amazon account — and will need to be individually activated with a second factor like a text message so that anybody else that might share your Amazon Prime can’t get to it.
  • You can download and delete any data that’s stored in the cloud at any time, or reset your account to zero.
  • Body scans and tone data can be individually deleted separately from the rest of your health data.
  • Body scans are only briefly uploaded to Amazon’s servers then deleted “within 12 hours” and scan images are never shared to other apps like the photo gallery unless you explicitly export an image.
  • Voice recordings are analyzed locally on your phone and then deleted. “Speech samples are processed locally and never sent to the cloud,” Amazon says, adding that “Tone data won’t be used for training purposes.”
  • Data can be shared with third parties, including some partners like WW (formerly Weight Watchers). Data generated by the “labs” feature is only shared as anonymous aggregate info.
Halo’s activity tracker does more than count steps
Halo’s activity tracker does more than count steps
 Amazon

ACTIVITY AND SLEEP TRACKING

TheThe body scanning and tone features might be the most flashy (or, depending on your perspective, most creepy) parts of Halo, but the thing you’ll likely spend the most time watching is your activity score.

Amazon’s Halo app tracks your cardio fitness on a weekly basis instead of daily — allowing for rest days. It does count steps, but on a top level what you get is an abstracted score (and, of course, a ring to complete) that’s more holistic. Just as Google did in 2018, Amazon has worked with the American Heart Association to develop the abstracted Activity score.

The Halo band uses its heart monitor to distinguish between intense, moderate, and light activity. The app combines those to ensure you’re hitting a weekly target. Instead of the Apple Watch’s hourly “stand” prompts, the Halo app tracks how long you have been “sedentary.” If you go for more than 8 hours without doing much (not counting sleep), the app will begin to deduct from your weekly activity score.

Halo’s sleep tracking feature
Halo’s sleep tracking feature
 Amazon

The Halo band can automatically detect activities like walking and running, but literally every other type of exercise will need to be manually entered into the app. The whole system feels less designed for workout min-maxers and more for people who just want to start being more active in the first place.

Speaking of heart tracking, the Halo band doesn’t proactively alert you to heart conditions like a-fib, nor does it do fall detection.

The Halo band’s sleep tracking similarly tries to create an abstracted score, though you can dig in and view details on your REM sleep and other metrics. One small innovation that the Halo band shares with the new Fitbit is temperature monitoring. It uses a three-day baseline when you are sleeping and from there can show a chart of your average body temperature when you wake up.

The Halo Band’s sensor array
The Halo Band’s sensor array
 Amazon

HALO LABS, PARTNERSHIPS, AND THE SUBSCRIPTION

Finally,Finally, Amazon has partnered with several third parties to create services and studies to go along with the Halo service. For example, if your health care provider’s system is compatible with Cerner, you can choose to share your body fat percentage with your provider’s electronic medical records system. Amazon says it will also be a fully subsidized option for the John Hancock Vitality wellness program.

The flagship partnership is with WW, which syncs up data from Halo into WW’s own FitPoints system. WW will also be promoting the Halo Band itself to people who sign up for its service.

There are dozens of lower-profile partnerships, which will surface in the Halo app as “Labs.” Many of the labs will surface as four-week “challenges” designed to get you to change your health habits. Partners creating Labs range from Mayo Clinic, Exhale, Aaptiv, Lifesum, Headspace, and more. So there might be a lab encouraging you to give yoga a try, or a set of advice on sleeping better like kicking your pet out of your bedroom.

Amazon says each Lab needs to be developed with “scientific evidence” of its effectiveness and Amazon will audit them. Data crated from these challenges will be shared with those partners, but only in an aggregated, anonymous way.

Virtually all the features discussed here are part of the $3.99/month Halo subscription. If you choose to let it lapse, the Halo band will still do basic activity and sleep tracking.

In charging a monthly subscription, Amazon is out on a limb compared to most of its competitors. Companies like Fitbit and Withings offer some of the same features you can get out of the Halo system, including sleep tracking and suggestions for improving your fitness. They also have more full-featured bands with displays and other functionality. And of course there’s the Apple Watch, which will have deeper and better integrations with the iPhone than will ever be possible for the Halo band.

Overall, Halo is a curious mix. Its hardware is intentionally less intrusive and less feature-rich than competitors, and its pricing strategy puts Amazon on the hook for creating new, regular content to keep people subscribed (exercise videos seem like a natural next step). Meanwhile, the body scanning feature goes much further than other apps in directly digitizing your self-image — which is either appealing or disturbing depending on your relationship to your self image. And the emotion tracking with Tone is completely new and more than a little weird.

The mix is so eclectic that I can’t possibly guess who it might appeal to. People who are more serious about exercise and fitness will surely want more than what’s on offer in the hardware itself, and people who just sort of want to be a little more active may balk at the subscription price. And since the Halo band doesn’t offer the same health alerts like fall detection or abnormal heart rate detection, using it as a more passive health monitor isn’t really an option either.

That doesn’t mean the Halo system can’t succeed. Amazon’s vision of a more holistic health gadget is appealing, and some of its choices in how it aggregates and presents health data is genuinely better than simple step counting or ring completion.

We won’t really know how well the Halo system does for some time, either. Amazon’s opening it up as an early access program for now, which means you need to request to join rather than just signing up and buying it.

Burger King angers Twitch streamers with stunt campaign

Burger King has been known for creating campaigns that tap into new technology to create PR, sometimes risking backlash (remember their tv spot that purposefully activated Google Home smart speaker in people’s homes?). Well, this time Burger King angered Twitch streamers by exploiting a donation feature that lets streamers collect donations from fans.

The donation feature in Twitch was designed to incentivize streamers to continue creating content that their audience appreciate by tipping them. The way it works is that a viewer can have a typed message read out aloud by a computer whenever they donate money to a streamer. In this case, Burger King targeted some of the most popular streamers and used a bot to donate $5 (a BK value meal) to have its message (unsolicited by both the streamer and the viewer) read out loud to everyone watching.

There’s been huge backlash and the campaign merely lasted a few hours on Twitch. Researches show gamers tend to be more open to advertising than the average person but not when done in such a scummy way that disrupts the experience to everyone involved and takes advantage of talent/influencers who have worked hard to build their audiences.

“Unlike other audiences, consumers in the video game arena are very discerning, protective and don’t appreciate marketing stunts that disrupt their experiences or minimize the work of their favorite streamers”

“Seeing a giant brand like Burger King coming into the space and marginalizing both the audience and the talent certainly doesn’t land well with the people they are trying to market to,” says Chris Erb, CEO of gaming-focused agency Tripleclix.

 

Sometimes, there’s a (not so) fine line between being a savvy and a scummy marketer. For brands to have success with these consumers they need to actually build relationships with gamers and their influencers, and not market to them.

Google Maps tracks forest fires in near-real-time

The Verge:

Type in the name of an ongoing wildfire into Google search, and the site will now bring up a map featuring a near-real-time boundary of the fire. Google revealed the feature today, which was piloted in California last year and will now be available across the US.

Google Maps will also update users with road closures and provide them with directions that help them avoid danger and roadblocks. If someone is looking at an area near a blaze on Google Maps, they’ll get an alert.

Getting accurate information to people near a wildfire can save lives. It’s also a constant challenge for emergency responders because the situation can change rapidly, while hearsay online can quickly drown out reputable sources. Google developed the new mapping feature with input from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) as part of an effort to make important updates easier to find.

The problem came to the attention of Yossi Matias, vice president of engineering at Google, in 2010 during the Mount Carmel fire near Haifa, Israel. Matias was working in Google’s Haifa office when his team saw billowing smoke outside. A Google search failed to turn up anything more helpful than what they could already assess from their windows. “While we did find some details confirming what we already knew—a large fire was taking place outside of our door—we experienced a potentially life-impacting information gap,” Matias wrote in a blog post announcing the new mapping feature today.

Now, the same Google search would result in more curated content. The scare Matias and his team experienced led to the development of Google’s SOS Alerts in 2017. Beneath a red banner labeled “SOS Alert,” the search results offer top stories, followed by official updates for emergency situations. Starting today, searches for wildfires will also include a more detailed map showing the boundaries of an active blaze.

Why it’s hot:

As the climate crisis worsens, how much more will we rely on information services such as this? And what forms will that information take with regards to mass migration, air pollution, heat waves, droughts, floods, etc?

Will our phones help us survive? No doubt those with access to such services will be advantaged.

Experts in sitting meets expertise in gaming.

Herman Miller collaborated with Logitech to create the high end gaming chair, made to make you play better.

Herman Miller, long time furniture maker and creator of the famed, Aeron Chair, Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman brings sitting to the next level with the G Embody Gaming Chair. Insert ooos and aahhhs here.

This super sleek chair comes at NBD 1500 dollar price tag.

Does it make sense for them?

Yes, they catered to the rebels of silicon valley with their Aeron Chair that “..was a throne perfectly tailored to Silicone Valley’s Vanities“. A rebellious lean to the chair that would allow for perfect power yielding in meetings and frustration of the dot com boom.

More than that, they are experts in sitting. For E Sports, that is basically what you are doing, physically at least.

Targeting the competition. 

What you get is a whole different experience than what gamers are usually sitting in, which are race car chairs. That add, what Fast Company calls, “tacky” I would say, quirky.

Because race car chairs were designed for racing cars, they hug you while you are in motion. As Herman Miller figured out, gamers aren’t moving, and the way they sit and think about their set up is very different.

Its a sport, and Herman is treating it like that.

Gamers think about their mice, keyboard and monitor as performance gear, Miller extends that to the chair as well.

Their sitting stance –

  • Gamers lean forward almost in an attack stance of their computer.
  • Leading forward means they loose the support of the chairs back.
  • At times they sit on their feet to get leverage.
  • Sweating, under lights or just because they’re sitting for 10-12 hours, adrenaline.

G Embody answer to the sitting stance –

  • Lean in non resistance. For quick maneuvering and not worrying about fighting with the char
  • Copper infused cooling foam
  • “Pixelated support” 100 mattress like coils to the seat bottom. (For distribution of weight across the seat. Miller also says it encourages blood-flow.
    • Pixels near sit bones are harder, for support, while towards your legs are softer not to compress arteries.

Why it’s hot:

Collaboration to target a new customer. New entrant into a new category.

It also makes me wonder how far can this go. Gloves for non resistant mouse clicking?

A new type mouse and glove set that will respond quicker than a click.

The Path to Enduring Loyalty

Stitch Fix Is Attracting Loyal Customers Without a Loyalty Program

As their customer base has grown in recent years, so too has the revenue they generate from each active customer. Even amidst the pain the apparel industry has been experiencing, over the last few months of the coronavirus pandemic, Stitch Fix has managed to weather the storm with only a slight revenue decline – mostly due to the decision to close warehouses for a period.

WHY IT’S HOT:  In a world where “loyalty” tends to cost businesses and marketers money, in the form of deals and discounts, Stitch Fix is a testament to the the power of data to drive true personalization across the customer experience.

From The Motley Fool:

A personal stylist armed with a powerful data-driven selection algorithm creates a great customer experience.

 

In the highly competitive clothing industry, loyal customers are worth their weight in gold. Stores go to great lengths to attract repeat customers with programs that provide rewards, discounts, or exclusive offers for loyal members. But even with these programs, customers are hard to keep. A 2019 survey by Criteo found that 72% of apparel shoppers were open to considering other brands, which is why what Stitch Fix (NASDAQ:SFIX) has done to create loyal clients without a loyalty program is so special.

Let’s look at this personalized online clothing retailer’s loyal customers, how data science is helping build loyalty into the process, and what management is doing to further capitalize on the company’s momentum.

Loyal customers spend more

Clothing stores have seen a significant drop in spending in the past few months, but Stitch Fix’s most recent quarterly revenue only declined by 9% year over year. Impressively, this decline was not due to a drop in demand, but because the company chose to close its warehouses for part of the quarter as it put safety measures in place for its staff. This strong result against a backdrop of abysmal retail clothing spending was powered in part by the company’s auto-ship customers.

In the most recent earnings call, CEO Katrina Lake indicated that customers who sign up to receive “Fixes” (shipments of clothes) automatically and on a regular basis “achieved the strongest levels of ownership retention in the last three years.” She added that “this large contingent of loyal and highly engaged clients” are “very valuable.” Having a stable base of repeat clients helps the company better predict demand trends, shape inventory purchases, and forecast appropriate staffing levels.

Additional benefits from Stitch Fix’s loyal customers show up in the revenue-per-active-client metric. At the end of the day, consumers vote with their wallets. And impressively, this number has increased for the last eight quarters in a row. It’s clear Stitch Fix clients love the service as they are willing to spend more over time.

Possibly the biggest reason clients are spending more is that they are better matched with items they love.

Data science helps improve the customer experience

Making great clothing selections is key to the client experience for Stitch Fix. The job of keeping this recommendation engine humming and improving it over time is the company’s data scientist team. This group is over 100 strong and many of its members have Ph.D.s in data science or related fields. The team received a patent on its Smart Fix Algorithm and has other patents pending. You can see the amazing detail that goes into this process on the Algorithms Tour section of the Stitch Fix website.

This algorithm is also driving selections for the direct buy offering, which allows clients to purchase clothing without the commitment of the five-item fix. This new service is taking off and its low return rates show that clients love it. Lake shared that “people keeping things that they love is ultimately like the true Northstar of our business and that’s really where we’re orienting a lot of our efforts again.” One of these new efforts is focused on pushing the envelope of how stylists engage with clients.

Doubling down on personalized service

On the last earnings call, Stitch Fix President Elizabeth Spaulding discussed a pilot program that “provide[s] clients with increased stylist engagement and the opportunity to select items in their fixes.” This program, currently being tested in the U.S. and the U.K., connects the client on a video call with a stylist while their fix is being created. This allows the client direct input into their selections and enables the stylist to become better acquainted with the client’s clothing choices.

This innovative approach plays to the company’s strengths and could further build its loyal client following. Spaulding indicated that more would be shared in upcoming calls, but said that “We believe this enhanced styling experience will appeal to an even broader set of clients as consumers seek high-touch engagement while not going into stores.”

Walmart poised to capture the summer movie market?

As traditional movie theaters struggle to attract movie-goers during the pandemic, the confined-space nature of their offering has opened up opportunity for other players. Perhaps one in particular that happens to have a huge amount of real estate for parking cars and for allowing customers to sit back and watch a film from the comfort (and relative safety) of their vehicle? Enter: Walmart.

Walmart has had success being more customer focused with their shop online and pick up stations. This new foray into theaters feels like an extension of that customer-centric premise.

Walmart is smart to move fast to assess how the brand can fulfill consumer desires in light of current events with resources they mostly already have on hand. This agility is what will help Walmart capitalize on movie-goers while theater heavy hitters are sitting ducks.

It’s also a lead-gen play. To discover info and movie times, you need to sign up for their newsletter.

From The Verge:

Walmart is converting some of its parking lots into drive-in theaters for the summer as the movie industry struggles amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The retail behemoth is converting 160 of its parking lots across the US into drive-ins. These theaters will open in early August and remain open through October. The Walmart Drive-In will feature movies programmed by Tribeca Enterprises, the company behind the Tribeca Film Festival, which recently launched a summer movie drive-in series bringing films, music, and sporting events to as many US drive-ins as possible.

Walmart has not disclosed whether attendees will have to pay a price of admission. Though, ahead of each drive-in screening, Walmart says it will sell concessions for moviegoers, which they can order online for curbside pick-up ahead of the film screening. Theaters tend to make a good chunk of their profits on concessions, so Walmart could follow in the industry’s lead.

Why it’s hot:

1. This is a great example of using surplus resources to fill a market gap. The heavy investment stuff is already in place. Walmart needs to invest in some screens, staff, etc, but that overhead is minimal.

2. Though it’s only temporary, the experience created should endear people to the brand, as well as boost revenues from concessions sales.

Source: The Verge

Etsy’s New AR Tool Makes It Easier to Shop for Art From Home

Etsy introduced a new augmented reality tool aimed at visualizing wall art in your space before you purchase. The functionality is built within the Etsy ios app, and at launch works for all prints, photographs, and portraits.

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

The feature works by moving your phone or tablet around your space, and tapping to place on the wall. In cases where different sizes are available, simply zooming in or out will showcase the various options and help you determine which dimensions fit best.

Etsy is using the launch as a beta test to gather feedback before rolling out to other product categories.

Why It’s Hot

At a time when people are online shopping for their home, from their home more than ever, this tool helps make the process easier and more personalized. As a marketplace that supports independent artists, Etsy is providing a significant advantage by helping bring their art to life and allowing potential buyers to experience how the art fits within their existing aesthetic.

Source

Boston latest big city to take stand against facial recognition software

It’s sadly not surprising that the first false arrest attributed to faulty facial recognition was of a black man in Michigan.

Fast Company:

Boston on Wednesday banned municipal use of facial recognition technology, becoming the largest East Coast city to do so, public radio station WBUR reports.

“Boston should not be using racially discriminatory technology and technology that threatens our basic rights,” said city council member Michelle Wu at a Wednesday hearing, CNET reports.

Facial recognition technology has fallen under heavy criticism, with numerous research reports finding the technology does relatively poorly at recognizing people who aren’t white men. IBM recently announced it would stop offering “general purpose” facial recognition software, and Microsoft and Amazon both announced moratoriums on offering such technology to police.

Boston joins neighboring municipalities Somerville, Cambridge, and Brookline in barring local agencies from using the technology. Other cities, including Oakland and San Francisco in California, already ban the technology as well.

The new ordinance drew praise from civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which in a tweet called attention to Robert Williams, a Black man living in Michigan who was arrested after being falsely matched by such software to someone captured in surveillance footage.

City officials are still allowed to use facial recognition to unlock their own devices, and they can still use the technology to automatically spot faces to redact from photos, CNET reports.

Why it’s hot:

1. We’ve talked about inherent bias in AI before, but whether or not to use it has largely been left up to tech companies and the market. Major municipalities have been reluctant to outright ban the use of facial recognition algorithms in surveillance and policing until recently (maybe because mass surveillance is super appealing to governments looking for a cheap way to police the population). Current events could be turning the tide toward a more just and less dystopian future…but maybe this is just a bump in the road for facial recognition.

2. It’s telling that the current complaints lobbed at facial recognition technology focus on its problems with bias, but focus less on its fundamental problems concerning civil liberties and privacy. Maybe because it’s hard to notice until it affects us. Also maybe because those apps using it are just too much fun.

Source: Fast Company

The Great Privacy Revolt

DuckDuckGo is an Internet privacy company that “empowers users to seamlessly take control of their personal information online, without any tradeoffs.”

Over the years, DuckDuckGo has offered millions of people a private alternative to Google. And it seems as if consumers are using it. The site is currently averaging more than 50 million search queries per day, which was far beyond what I thought it’d be.

As companies large and small, not to mention government agencies, are hacked, consumers of all ages are becoming increasingly aware that their growing dependence on technology has come at the expense of their privacy. It’s estimated Google trackers lurk behind 76% of web pages and Facebook’s on 24%.

In the past, consumers almost haphazardly shared data without thinking twice but it seems that’s changing and forcing marketers to rethink the experience.

Why it’s hot:
Consumers are turning to more technologies that safeguard their privacy. The DOJ is probing Google’s search engine dominance. Germanys highest court ordered Facebook to stop harvesting user data. All of these happens are contributing to a larger privacy revolt, especially with younger generations.

According to a recent GenTech study only 29% of 19- to 24-year-olds view technologies such as AI and machine learning algorithms as positive interventions. Instead, most wish to maintain a sense of autonomy in their decision making and have the opportunity to freely explore new products, services, and experiences. It’ll be interesting to see how marketers adapt to create experiences for consumers in the future.

Prescription Game

Designed to help kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), EndeavorRx is the first game that’s allowed to be prescribed by doctors as medical treatment.

The game should not be considered an alternative to medication, but is officially approved by the US FDA. The game, aimed at patients age 8-12, can be plaid on an iPad or iPhone and has been found (after clinical trials for 7 years) to reduce attention-deficit for 1/3 of participants.

Introducing Akili

Akili, the creator of the game aims to reimagine what medicine can be. They are pairing neuroscience with the latest technology and video game entertainment in the hopes of challenging the status quo of medicine.

Why it’s hot: Gaming addiction was declared a legitimate disorder by the WHO last year and has taken flak in regards to violence. But, with Covid lockdowns and their ensuing madness, more and more people of all ages are realizing the benefits of gaming.

Sources:

CNBC – See the first-ever game approved by the FDA as a mental health treatment
Distractify – How the EndeavorRX game works
Forbes  – Games are great for your mental health study finds

Twitter wants to make sure you did your homework

From The Guardian: Test to promote informed discussion will ask users if they want to retweet unread links

Twitter is trying to stop people from sharing articles they have not read, in an experiment the company hopes will “promote informed discussion” on social media.

In the test, pushed to some users on Android devices, the company is introducing a prompt asking people if they really want to retweet a link that they have not tapped on.

“Sharing an article can spark conversation, so you may want to read it before you tweet it,” Twitter said in a statement. “To help promote informed discussion, we’re testing a new prompt on Android – when you retweet an article that you haven’t opened on Twitter, we may ask if you’d like to open it first.”

The problem of users sharing links without reading them is not new. A 2016 study from computer scientists at Columbia University and Microsoft found that 59% of links posted on Twitter are never clicked.

Less academically sound, but more telling, was another article posted that same year with the headline “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting” – the fake news website the Science Post has racked up a healthy 127,000 shares for the article which is almost entirely lorem ipsum filler text.

Twitter’s solution is not to ban such retweets, but to inject “friction” into the process, in order to try to nudge some users into rethinking their actions on the social network. It is an approach the company has been taking more frequently recently, in an attempt to improve “platform health” without facing accusations of censorship.

In May, the company began experimenting with asking users to “revise” their replies if they were about to send tweets with “harmful language” to other people. “When things get heated, you may say things you don’t mean,” the company explained. “To let you rethink a reply, we’re running a limited experiment on iOS with a prompt that gives you the option to revise your reply before it’s published if it uses language that could be harmful.”

That move has proved less effective, with the company’s filter picking up as much harmless – if foul-mouthed – conversation between friends as it does genuinely hateful speech targeting others.

“We’re trying to encourage people to rethink their behaviour and rethink their language before posting because they often are in the heat of the moment and they might say something they regret,” Twitter’s global head of site policy for trust and safety said at the time.

Why it’s hot

Social media continues to grapple with the pandora’s box its technology has released, rightly criticized for fanning the flames of our worst instincts and becoming inadvertent accomplices in the proliferation of hate speech, real fake news, and conspiracy theories.

Though it may be the bare minimum, it’s interesting to see them employing psychology to try to curb the spread of misinformation. A simple pause can go a long way.

Source: The Guardian

The Internet of Taste

Taste works like a piece of music, with just 7 notes, you can make endless unique combinations. With taste, it’s about the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, acidic, sour, and umami. Every dish contains a combination of these with the intensity varying depending on the dish. So a pecan pie and a hamburger both contain all five tastes, but in varying amounts.

What does this have to do with the Internet? 

Enter the Norimaki Synthesizer. Developed by a researcher at Meiji University in Japan, has created a “taste display” that can artificially simulate any flavor. A taste machine!

As such, the Norimaki Synthesizer has five gels (one for each taste) that are arranged by an electric current. Through a process called electrophoresis that I cannot possibly explain, the electric current sorts the gels so that a desired amount of each is drawn towards the user’s tongue while the rest of the gel retreats away from the device’s opening.
Source: Inside Hook

Tests have indicated he machine is effective, fooling users to think they’ve tasted sushi, or a piece of gum.

Why It’s Hot: Nowhere near being mainstream, the taste tester could have a myriad applications. It won’t be a substitute for the real thing, but it could open a new way for consumers to “try” products remotely or it could be paired with environmental food initiatives to try to substitute environmentally unfriendly practices without losing taste.

Additional Source: gizmodo

New developments in the digital divide

From The Verge:

When David Velasquez went home to California for a week in April, he found out that his parents didn’t have internet access anymore. Velasquez, a medical student at Harvard, needs Wi-Fi for work. However, his parents don’t own a computer. “They don’t shop online, they don’t watch Netflix,” he says. So when the connection got too expensive, they stopped paying for it.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country, that decision worried Velasquez. His parents also speak very little English, and doctors and clinics in the US were canceling in-person appointments and asking patients to schedule virtual visits for any health problems instead.

Without internet access and with limited English, Velasquez’s parents wouldn’t be able to make that switch. “I knew that as our healthcare system started transitioning over to telehealth as opposed to in-person, in-clinic care, their access to health care — and other individuals like them — would be disrupted,” he told The Verge.

Telehealth is convenient for some people: it cuts out the drive to an office and the time in a waiting room, trimming an hours-long event down to minutes. But it isn’t easily accessible to the 25 million people in the United States who speak little English, who are more likely to live in poverty, often work service or construction jobs, and may be more at risk of exposure to COVID-19. Even if they are able to get online, most of the systems that support telehealth — like hospital portals and video visit platforms — are hard to access for people who primarily speak other languages.

Why it’s hot

The dream of a techno-utopia often forgets that human biases and systemic problems left unaddressed become embedded in new technology and can exacerbate inequality. So, until we solve those issues, they will be perpetuated.

Source: The Verge

Custom webcam system lets you take Zoom calls on your TV

Crestron, which offers services to help people customize their smart homes, has teamed up with Logitech and Zoom to make an at-home video conferencing setup using technology you’d typically find in an office conference room.

The setup could, for example, let you use your living room TV and a conference room-quality video camera to take Zoom meetings while reclining on your couch instead of being hunched over a laptop. That could be a much more comfortable way to take meetings or host group calls with family and friends while at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The setup, called Crestron HomeTime, doesn’t require a specialized TV — it should work with any TV with an HDMI portHomeTime also takes advantage of the Zoom Rooms software, which is typically used in enterprises to help start and manage Zoom calls in conference rooms.

You’ll be able to start Zoom meetings using your HomeTime setup right from the remote or using the Zoom Rooms app – but it won’t be cheap. The standard cost for a single-room setup is $6,100, and tacking on additional rooms costs $3,100 each, according to the company. HomeTime will be available on Monday, June 1st.

Why it’s Hot:

With so much of life taking place over video conferencing, it makes sense that someone  came up with a solution that won’t involve everyone hunched over on a laptop. While this wildly expensive option won’t be for everyone, it feels likely that other companies will be scrambling to come up with similar, more wallet-friendly options.

Source

Google releases Action Blocks for people with disabilities

Google released a new tool called Action Blocks for people with cognitive and motion disabilities. The system allows users and their caregivers to add Assistant commands to the home screen of Android phones and tablets. Each command is represented by a custom image and it can be controlled with just one tap. For instance, when a user taps an Action Block icon of a cab, the system might order a rideshare.

 

Also worth mentioning that Google has also improved its Maps apps to show if businesses or public venues have accessible entrance. When enabling this feature, you can see a wheelchair icon next to the location.

Why it’s hot: Embracing the diversity trend goes beyond race and gender. With something like 630 million people having some form of cognitive disability, this is not a niche group and it’s great that Google is providing services that ‘level the playing field’ for them.

The Office. On Slack.

The office adapts to the way we work now! Welcome to The Office Slack, a slack reinterpretation of every episode of the office.

“The account comes from a creative collective known as MSCHF, “a group of 10 offbeat creatives based in a small office in Brooklyn.” They post on the Office Slack during traditional office hours, naturally (weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), in real-time, meaning some episodes take days or even weeks to fully play out.”

https://theofficeslack.com/#

Why it’s hot?

This is such an out of the box way to absorb content, can be used within your work tools while you’re working. You can check in or out at any time. True Office fans can pick up at any time…

if you don’t like “camera on”, maybe you’ll like “avatar on”…


You’ve likely seen a lot of talk about how the effects of our current pandemic quarantine may forever change how we work. You may even feel the change happening.

Currently, we’re all enjoying full days of video chats on Teams, Zoom, Slack, take your pick. Spatial is a similar collaboration tool that allows teammates to converse and interact in AR/VR.

It may or may not be a substitute for in-person interactions, but at least solves for some of the challenges of brainstorming and ideating when we’re not all in the same “space”.

Why It’s Hot:

While it’s unclear how quickly these types of virtual interactions will begin to become commonplace, a company like Spatial signifies it’s coming. Not just for workplace interactions, but also social ones.

[Source]

This AI makes neologisms by portmanteau-ing the English language

Yesterday a smart person named Thomas Dimson, who formerly wrote “the algorithm” at Instagram, launched a site that uses the Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithm: Transformers, and OpenAI‘s infamous GPT-2 AI-powered text generator, to generate and define new English words, and use them in a sentence.

It’s called This Word Does Not Exist, and it has so far created gems such as:

A disclaimer at the bottom of the site reads: Words are not reviewed and may reflect bias in the training set.

You can also write your own neologism and the AI will define it for you. It’s a fun diversion, but does it have any use? Probably not in this form. But it speaks to how AI may be used in the fun-and-games side of life, but also how it may ultimately shape the foundations of how we communicate.

Why it’s hot:

It’s fun to participate in the creation of something new (without having to work too hard), and language is the perfect playground for experimentation.

As AI becomes more influential in our daily lives, it’s interesting (and perhaps a little disturbing) to imagine the ways in which it may take part in creating the very words we use to communicate. What else might AI give us that we have heretofore considered to be the exclusive domain of humans?

Source: TheNextWeb

Self care as a video game

What if there were something that could help snap you out of your rut, be it a temporary funk or actual, clinical depression? And what if this something were designed to make doing good things for yourself as addictive as a video game? That’s the premise of The Guardians: Unite the Realms, a new app developed by the Affective Computing group at MIT Media Lab.

Out now for iOS and Android, it’s a free game, modeled after character collection games like Pokémon and Skylanders (though without any fighting). Instead of urging you to spend money on microtransactions as most of these games do, The Guardians urges you to spend effort on yourself. If you want to progress in the game, you have to invest in your own well-being.

The data shows that people who are depressed don’t want to use self-improvement apps (only about 3% will complete a regimen in these apps). At the same time, people with severe depression still play games as much as people who aren’t experiencing depression, making gaming a promising avenue for introducing mental health interventions.

Over years of both formal study and informal play-testing in the lab, lead platforms engineer at the Affective Computing group and game director for the Guardians Project Craig Ferguson morphed the app into what it is today – a fantasy land filled with magical animals that attempt to take their world back from an evil villain. Last September, he got tired of the research and started thinking about releasing something—even something still unproven—to help people battling depression. Then with COVID-19 trapping so many of us at home, he made the choice to publicize what was done.

That release, while a fraction of what the game will be in the future, he says, can still take months to complete, and it’s presented with as much glitzy animation and character design as you’d find in any high-end mobile app.

When you load the game, a big button glows and bounces in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, reading “new adventure available.” This is essentially a good-for-you button, because each adventure is focused around the phenomenon of “behavioral activation.” Behavioral activation is a proven therapy that can be used casually or clinically for depression. It gets people to partake in positive experiences rather than spending time doing the things that reinforce their own damaging behaviors. And there are dozens of options to choose from.

Some suggested adventures are practical, such as knocking things off your to-do list that might otherwise cause anxiety: Manage finances. Vacuum. Do Laundry. Others help you grow: Watch an online class. Write a poem. Read a classic. And others help you stay active: Spend time in nature. Learn a new dance. Or, my personal favorite, Jazzercise for 20 minutes. You are also completely free to make up your own adventure, and repeat it whenever you’d like.

Why it’s Hot:

With so much content promoting self care and wellness during shelter-in-place, wellness can begin to feel like a chore. This is especially true for people who struggle with depression, where even small tasks can feel unmanageable. This app helps to make those small tasks fun and purposeful (albeit in an imaginary game). With a mental health crisis looming on top of our current physical health crisis, it’s interesting to see an app that tackles this very serious situation in a seemingly light-hearted way.

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Uber Launches Two New Delivery Services to “Move More of What Matters”

Uber announced two new services that will help people navigate two of the top challenges they are currently facing: getting the essentials they need for themselves, and sharing essentials with friends and family. With far fewer people relying on Uber to take them from place to place, Uber has rapidly pivoted into the transportation of goods.

The first service, Uber Direct, is an expansion of Uber Eats’ core functionality to grocery and convenience stores. They’ve launched with different partners in different cities, including Cabinet delivering OTC medicine in NYC and Greencross delivering pet supplies in Australia.

Uber Connect, on the other hand, will pick up items from one person and deliver them to another. Their example use cases include sending a care package, a board game, or toilet paper to a loved one, but there are countless ways this service can be used to stay connected from a distance.

Why It’s Hot

Getting key supplies to family members in need within the same-day without having to take public transportation or even leave your house is extremely beneficial at this time. But the convenience factor of sending items through an Uber driver may also lead to fun ways to send surprise gifts, exchange books, or trade supplies with friends and family in a way that makes social distancing a bit easier.

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