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Apple wants to make talking to Siri more like talking to a person

Better video calls, quashing toxic gamers, yelling at drones and other patents from Big Tech.

Apple wants to make talking to Siri more like talking to a person

Hey, Siri.

Image: USPTO/Apple

The weekly Big Tech patent roundup is back with a bumper edition! I took last week off as I was on vacation (I know, I'm sorry, it won't happen again), but thankfully there were more than a few zany patents filed while I was out. Amazon wants us to yell at drones, Apple wants to put protectors on our heads, Facebook is drawing stick figures, and Microsoft just wants to make our video calls a little less unbearable.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

Alphabet

Making scanning documents far easier

Even though it's 2020 and almost everything can be done online, there's still some stuff that requires scanning real documents made of dead trees. One example that was pretty common, at least before lockdown, was receipts for expenses. You've got to scan them into your expenses software and hope that the computer vision picks up what's on the piece of paper. That can mean a lot of lining up edges perfectly. But Google's new patent envisions a system that can detect what's on a piece of paper at any angle, meaning uploading documents would be far easier. If I ever need to go out and do anything ever again, this could be super useful.

Amazon

Dealing with toxic gamers

If you've watched "Mythic Quest" on Apple TV (I can't be the only one, right?), this patent feels right out of one of my favorite episodes. Either way, Amazon's patent sounds like an absolute godsend for gamers: It suggests tracking users' behavior (especially things like the names they call other players), and then only pairing toxic users with other toxic users, allowing them to get into flame wars to their hearts' content, while leaving normal human beings who also like playing games to just enjoy their lives and games.

Yelling at drones

"Hey drone, I'm down here, come and get me!" may well be a thing you hear being shouted around suburbs in the future by otherwise sane humans. Amazon's new patent outlines a way that its delivery drones might be able to recognize people they're meant to be delivering packages to. The drones have sensors onboard that could be used for face scanning, or to recognize certain speech commands or gestures (like flailing your arms around) to know you're the person who desperately needed that Brushed Stainless Cuisinart GR-150P1 Griddler Deluxe within 15 minutes.

Apple

Apple headset

Apple is apparently looking into some sort of head-worn wearable; rumors have circulated about a pair of Apple Glasses being on the horizon, and given the images in this patent, that seems a possibility. But the patent also outlines what the device might do, including many of the functions already available on the Apple Watch. According to the patent, the headset could track "biometric data and/or health data and/or sleep data and/or mindfulness data" through various sensors. Hopefully we'll look cooler wearing the frames than the guy in the patent, though.

Charging an electric car

Apple's plans to build a car are about as clear as the back of a Space Gray iPhone 12, but that won't stop it from filing patents on novel car technology ideas. This patent outlines a few ideas for charging an electric car at home. One is rather like a high-tech version of the tennis ball hanging from a string that people use to know how far to pull into their garage: It's a charging port that lines up with a car as it pulls into the garage. The other idea is a charger that can autonomously move into place to plug into a parked car — something that Tesla has been trying to tackle for a while now.

Making Siri more helpful

Most voice assistants are pretty unhelpful; you have to clearly enunciate a single command for them and hope they heard and understood you, which is not at all how humans talk. Apple is apparently trying to work on making Siri a little more user-friendly, with this patent suggesting it's looking at ways to allow someone to make several commands at once (even ones that are follow-ups to the first question they ask) and in certain cases, not having to say "Hey Siri" every single time they want it to do something. That could potentially go a long way to making using Siri in public feel a lot less awkward.

Bioauthentication for wearables

A lot of laptops and phones have some sort of sensor on them to scan a part of the body to determine whether it's really you trying to get into the device, but wearables tend not to have the space for them. This patent looks at using the scanners already on a wearable — like the cameras on the bottom of the Apple Watch — to detect patterns in the wearer's veins and skin. Seemingly like fingerprints, those would be unique to every person — and presumably far more difficult to spoof.

Projecting digital objects onto the real world

This one is just quite funny. The patent outlines a system for projecting 2D objects onto the real world, which seems like a difficult computational challenge, but really I'm just sharing this to ask Apple why this guy is wearing a projector strapped to his head?

Facebook

Detecting if you're looking at a doctored image

We are living through a rather … divisive … time on the internet, and perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than on Facebook. But the company is trying to circumvent misinformation more than in previous years, and that apparently includes AI research to detect whether an image has been Photoshopped. It scans images for comparable parts in very similar images and then basically plays spot the difference. This could definitely help save a few arguments at the dinner table, or you know, an election.

Facebook for content creators

This is a patent that outlines how Facebook envisions its app looking for accounts dedicated to content creation, and the sort of metrics those creators might want to know about their posts, like what's performing well and what's getting engagement. But I think my favorite part of the patent is how phoned in the actual content in the artwork is. Maybe I've missed my calling as a content creator if this is the level out there.

Microsoft

Figuring out what apps you want to use

When trying to make plans with someone over text, it can usually involve going to several other apps to get the information you need: Yelp for restaurant recommendations, Google Maps for directions, and maybe a quick peek at Mint to see if you can really afford a five-star joint this week. Microsoft's patent envisions making that process far easier, by detecting what you're talking about in a conversation and making suggestions on what you want to do and the apps you want to use to do them. Perhaps someday soon AI can just organize all my meetings for me.

Making Zoom calls less of a memory hog

We're all on Zoom (or should I say Skype, given this is a Microsoft patent?) all the time now, but if you've ever been on a long video call with your laptop unplugged, you'll probably have noticed how much of a battery drain it can be. "The inventors have realised that the layout/configuration of the display of visual information can change immediately in response to events, which can result in frequent and unnecessary change in the rendered display," as the patent puts it. Their solution: Fix the order of people that each person sees on the call, and give them the option to leave them as static images unless they're talking. Unfortunately the patent has no solutions for your colleague who keeps texting during the meeting or doesn't know that he's not on mute.

People

Google’s trying to build a more inclusive, less chaotic future of work

Javier Soltero, the VP of Workspace at Google, said time management is everything.

With everyone working in new places, Google believes time management is everything.

Image: Google

Javier Soltero was still pretty new to the G Suite team when the pandemic hit. Pretty quickly, everything about Google's hugely popular suite of work tools seemed to change. (It's not even called G Suite anymore, but rather Workspace.) And Soltero had to both guide his team through a new way of working and help them build the tools to guide billions of Workspace users.

This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Protocol | Policy

Far-right misinformation: Facebook's most engaging news

A new study shows that before and after the election, far-right misinformation pages drew more engagement than all other partisan news.

A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren't known for spreading misinformation.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Protocol | Enterprise

Tony Bates hears the call at Genesys

Running a contact center company isn't as sexy as his previous gigs. But this company could be the best chance for him to make a lasting mark.

Tony Bates arrived at Genesys as CEO after hopscotching through various parts of the tech industry.

Photo: Genesys

Be careful what you wish for. For Tony Bates, that's been running a big tech company.

He rose to Cisco's top ranks but didn't get the No. 1 job. His big CEO break was at Skype when it was poised to go public — but months into that gig, Bates' venture backers sold it to Microsoft instead. After a stint at Microsoft, where some eyed Bates for the CEO job that went to Satya Nadella, he took over GoPro. There, he got cut in a round of layoffs as the camera company struggled. He joined Social Capital, which helped fund Slack and Box, for a gig that lasted a year before tech investor Chamath Palihapitiya blew up the venture capital firm he started.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

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