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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?

Protocol | Workplace

Silicon Valley has a new recruitment strategy: The four-day workweek

Everything you need to know about how tech companies are beta testing the 32-hour week.

Since the onset of COVID-19, more companies have begun to explore shortened workweeks.

Photo: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

At software company Wildbit, most employees are logged off on Fridays. That's not going to change anytime soon.

To Natalie Nagele, the company's co-founder and CEO, a full five days of work doesn't necessarily mean the company will get more stuff done. She pointed to computer science professor Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work," which explains how a person's ability to complete meaningful work cuts off after just about four hours. That book, Nagele told Protocol, inspired the company to move to a four-day workweek back in 2017.

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Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a reporter and producer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) where she contributes to Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

When the COVID-19 crisis crippled societies last year, the collective worldwide race for a cure among medical researchers put a spotlight on the immense power of big data analysis and how sharing among disparate agencies can save lives.

The critical need to exchange information among hundreds of international agencies or departments can be tough to pull off, especially if it's medical, financial or cybersecurity information that is highly protected by regulatory guardrails.

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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.
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The game industry comes back down to Earth after its pandemic boom

Game company earnings reports this week show a decline from last year's big profits.

The game industry is slowing down as it struggles to maintain last year's record growth.

Photo: Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The video game industry is finally slowing down. After a year of unprecedented and explosive growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic, big game publishers and hardware makers are starting to see profits dip from their 2020 highs and other signs of a return to normalcy.

This week alone, Sony and Nintendo both posted substantial drops in profit compared to this time a year ago, with Sony's operating income down more than 40% and Nintendo's down 17%. Grand Theft Auto maker Take-Two Interactive saw a dip in revenue and said its forecast for the rest of the fiscal year would not match last year's growth, while EA posted a revenue bump but an operating income decline of more than 43% compared to this time a year ago. Ubisoft, which reported earnings last month, saw its sales and bookings this past quarter drop by 14% and 21%, respectively, when compared to a year ago.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Allocations wants to make it easier to invest in startups as a group

Now valued at $100 million, it's emerging from stealth to challenge Carta and Assure in the SPV market.

Kingsley Advani, CEO of Allocations, wants to make it easier to form SPVs.

Photo: Allocations

Software is eating the world, including the venture industry. Carta and Assure have made it easier than ever for people to band together on deals. AngelList's venture arm debuted new ways to create rolling funds. But the latest startup to challenge the incumbents in the space is Allocations, a Miami-based startup that's making it easy to create and close special purpose vehicles, or SPVs, in hours.

"If you look at Pinduoduo and group shopping, SPVs are group investing," said Kingsley Advani, Allocations' founder and CEO. Instead of one investor having to cough up millions, multiple people can write smaller checks in an SPV and invest as a cohort. It's a trend that's taken off in 2021 as investors compete to get into hot startups.

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Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

Protocol | Fintech

How BankProv switched from community banking to crypto banking

BankProv is almost 200 years old, but it's competing with new banking startups by going after the newest area of finance — crypto.

BankProv's main office in Amesbury, Massachusetts hearkens back to its past. But the bank is looking to the future.

Photo: Google Street View

When BankProv was started, horse and buggy was state of the art for moving money. Now it's looking to use bitcoin and ether.

The bank was founded in 1828 as the Provident Bank — a name it kept until last July — and now wants to be a key provider for crypto companies that need banking services.

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Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

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