Power

Apple wants to make your tablet see-through

Plus, Microsoft listening to your calls, Google reading your social media posts, Facebook reading your thoughts and other patents from big tech.

Aziz Ansari and Chris Pratt sitting at a bar

If the Gryzzl tablet is good enough for "Parks & Recreation," it's good enough for us.

Photo: Courtesy of NBC

This week, big tech is acutely interested in knowing more about you to better serve you ads and finding zany new ways of displaying you those ads and more, from curved VR glasses to transparent displays to car seats that turn into screens. If we ever get to go outside again, some of these patents may well be the foundation for some of the tech we use. But if not, at least Amazon's new patent on computer vision will help keep out the people we don't want in our homes.

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

Figuring out which teams you like

How do you know if someone's a Red Sox fan? Don't worry; they'll tell you. Red Sox fans are some of the most vocal, fervent sports fans I've ever met, so I'm not sure Google's new patent would be all that necessary for them. But the gist is that a social network system would be able to infer interests and activities of a user based on where they are and what they post about. If they're based in Boston's Copley Square and post about the Sox, it's highly likely they know where the Green Monster is. The system would then know to tailor its advertising to a Boston-based Sox fan — perhaps they're in the mood for a nice pair of red socks, or a second baseman?

Curved displays for VR glasses

Most VR headsets today rely on flat displays and lenses to immerse the wearer in a virtual world, but if the display actually wrapped around their head, it might feel a little more real. Google's patent for "non-planar displays" would aim to do just that. The patent also draws out a pretty snazzy-looking design for what these future headsets could even look like.

Turning down your keyboard lights when it's time for bed

Most smartphones and computers have software to adjust the color temperature of the screen to be a little softer on the eyes at nighttime, which studies suggest can make it easier to fall asleep after a long screen-time session. But many devices also have backlit keyboards now, which tend to just produce their own blinding shade of white light when turned on. Google's patent outlines a system that would adjust the temperature and color of the lights on those keys in much the same way that screens now dim. It won't stop parents from saying their kids' phones are the reason they're staying up all night, though.

Amazon

Using computer vision to let strangers and robots into your house

Amazon already has a system that can use cameras and smart locks to let people into your home for things like package deliveries, but its new patent involves the system operating a little more autonomously. In the patent, the system could recognize that a home chef has arrived at your door to prepare you dinner (something we can obviously all relate to), or that a delivery robot is here to drop off a package, and let them in if it's safe. This could be determined by pinging that person (or robot) to make sure it's them, and then letting them know things about your house, like that you have a dog that might jump them when they step inside. Hopefully the system would know the difference between a licensed professional and a guy who just happens to own a chef's toque.

Apple

Transparent displays

Perhaps some day soon the trope from just about every sci-fi movie ever will become a reality. According to a new patent from Apple, the company is looking into displays that are either partially or entirely transparent. The patent suggests the displays could be found on any sort of device, including MacBooks or iPhones, and as you'd expect, they'd feature a bezel made of something opaque that would house all of the actual components to leave you with a large blank space to see through. This might be useful for some applications, like augmented reality, but is it something we'd actually want all the time? In movies, screens are often see-through so you can still see the actors on the other side.

Turning your car's back seat into a computer

Who needs a transparent display when your whole car can be a computer screen? Another patent from Apple this week sees the company exploring what infotainment systems in the back of vehicles (autonomous or otherwise) might look like. In the patent, a small center console could let a passenger choose to see whatever they're looking at — such as the map directions the car is following — blown up to cover the entire backseat area of the car. The materials used for the carseat, floor and doors would let light shine through, allowing them to turn into one massive computer screen. Stick a camera on the front of the car, and you could definitely see a future where someone makes a program where it looks like their backseat is a magic carpet flying along the expressway. It's a whole new world.


Facebook

Carbon nanotubes!

If you've followed any tech media over the last decade or so (including this jerk), you've likely been convinced that everything in the future will be made of carbon nanotubes. To date, that has not proven to be the case. But some companies are still looking at ways to use the difficult-to-produce super-materials, and apparently that includes Facebook. Its patent outlines an electrical connector made using nanotubes (and some less-futuristic materials), but whether we'll actually see things like these outside of a lab is another story.

Neuromuscular signal reader

Have you ever wished computers knew what you were going to ask them before you did? Personally I just wish they knew what I meant when I asked them things, which is apparently still too much for Siri. Facebook's new patent, likely stemming from its brain-computer interface work, looks to use electromyography sensors (which measure electrical signals in muscles) to figure out what you're typing while you're still typing it. This would theoretically give a computer more time to answer your question, as well as improve reaction times in video games. I just hope we get to a point soon that when I ask Siri to turn the lights off, she doesn't turn them on in a different room.

Microsoft

Listening to your phone calls to serve you ads

Have you ever heard the myth about Facebook listening in to your conversations and using the info to serve you ads? It's (almost certainly) not actually doing that, but what if someone else were? This new patent from Microsoft describes a VoIP system where conversations could be mined for words and phrases that could indicate something one of the speakers is interested in buying. Because who doesn't want their conversations about a truck they're looking at to be used for future marketing touch points?

Policy

Musk’s texts reveal what tech’s most powerful people really want

From Jack Dorsey to Joe Rogan, Musk’s texts are chock-full of überpowerful people, bending a knee to Twitter’s once and (still maybe?) future king.

“Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds,” one text reads.

Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

Elon Musk’s text inbox is a rarefied space. It’s a place where tech’s wealthiest casually commit to spending billions of dollars with little more than a thumbs-up emoji and trade tips on how to rewrite the rules for how hundreds of millions of people around the world communicate.

Now, Musk’s ongoing legal battle with Twitter is giving the rest of us a fleeting glimpse into that world. The collection of Musk’s private texts that was made public this week is chock-full of tech power brokers. While the messages are meant to reveal something about Musk’s motivations — and they do — they also say a lot about how things get done and deals get made among some of the most powerful people in the world.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. 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.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@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.

Policy

The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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