Facebook wants to be like Snapchat

Facebook is looking to make posts disappear, Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, and more patents from Big Tech.

Facebook wants to be like Snapchat

Facebook has ephemeral posts on its mind.

Image: Protocol

Welcome to another week of Big Tech patents. Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, Amazon wants to make voice assistants more intelligent, Microsoft wants to make scheduling meetings more convenient, and a ton more.

As always, remember that 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

More-accurate traffic reports

Traffic in the Bay Area was mostly nonexistent throughout the pandemic, as most of Silicon Valley stayed home. But now that offices are opening back up, people are starting to hit the road, and it's only a matter of time before traffic jams will make driving anywhere a nightmare again.

One way to beat traffic, or at least know what's coming, is by using the traffic overlay in Google Maps. It uses the speed of cars on the road to determine whether traffic is heavy or light. But sometimes that can be misleading, because the map doesn't usually take into account different lanes, like high-occupancy lanes, so the traffic doesn't fully represent what's going on. This patent aims to make traffic predictions more accurate, using various methods: One could be measuring traffic at different points on the road; another method might be integrating traffic speeds both in regular lanes as well as express lanes. By incorporating all of the available data and not just the average speed of all the cars, the traffic information will be that much more useful — and maybe getting to work on time won't be an impossible feat.

Improved contactless payments

Contactless POS terminals use NFC technology to accept payments. That's where you wave your phone near the screen and you complete the transaction without having to touch anything. But those terminals don't take into account anything extra, such as loyalty cards or special offers.

This patent imagines upgrading the POS so it can include not just payment information, but additional information regarding the transaction. For example, a customer taps the POS once to pay and then again for it to retrieve any loyalty points, without having to touch the POS at any point. That's great news for people (like me) who never want to touch anything again that hasn't been doused in some sort of bleach solution.

Using visual cues with an automated assistant

Speaking of contactless, one of the best and easiest ways to be hands-free is with a voice assistant, which usually just needs a wake word and a command to then perform said command. But what if your voice assistant could respond to hand gestures, too? This patent lays out a way for the voice assistant to not only respond to new hand gestures, such as a thumbs-up that acts as an "affirmative" response, but also how it can avoid false responses, say, from a nearby TV where a character also happens to give a thumbs-up. That way you can feel confident about waving around at your Google Hub without worrying that some background character is saying "yes" to the $300 worth of pizza you just tried to order.

Amazon

A more intelligent voice assistant

As I've written here many times, I love how voice assistants make my life easier; I have one in every room of the house. Granted, I usually use them to turn off lights, turn on sound machines, play music, or tell me what the weather is. This patent is looking to make voice assistants even more useful by triggering different notifications for various events. You could tell it something that doesn't have an end date, such as, "Tell me when I receive an email from David," in which case the assistant will notify you when David sends you that email, whenever it may be. Or you could ask it to tell you when the 49ers game starts, and it will alert you at the specific time and date. I'm all for never having to think for myself again, and it looks like we're one step closer to getting there.

Apple

Teleportation! (In VR)

Apple working on a VR headset has ruled the rumorverse for a long time — maybe even as long as the rumored Apple Car. But this patent might bring the company one step closer to making the rumor reality. Well, virtual reality, in this case.

Moving from location to location in virtual reality isn't always easy. You usually have to X out of the app, which disrupts the feeling of being inside the action. But this patent imagines a way of making it more seamless. Rather than signing out of the app or game, the different location can be overlaid onto the spot you're currently at. For example, if you're in a house, a little screen will pop up showing you what's outside of the house, and you can then choose to go there. Or if you want to go to a completely different location, using the same overlay, you could choose to get out of the house entirely. If only this existed in the real world.

Facebook

Ephemeral Facebook posts? Sign me up!

A big complaint about the internet — and social media specifically — is that things you post can come back to haunt you. Unless you specifically delete them after a set amount of time. But what if the network could automatically delete it for you after a certain threshold? That's what this patent explores: A way for the platform to delete your post, much like Snapchat. That way you don't have to worry about that 3 a.m. drunk post too much — as long as you remember to set it to disappear.

Microsoft

Intelligent meetings

Offices are great: You have a place to go to work, sometimes you get lunch and you get to collaborate with colleagues in person. But now as offices are (slowly) opening back up, it's imperative to remember some of the downsides of an office — namely, fighting over conference room space.

This patent aims to make that a little easier by assigning conference rooms that are the appropriate size. If your meeting has only four people in it, there's no need for a 10-person conference room. The system would assign appropriately, and even take into consideration the event that someone drops out of the meeting.

And to make scheduling meetings even more helpful, this patent imagines a way to look at everyone's calendar events and parse out the most relevant information. Using a proximity score, the system would schedule or reschedule meetings, based on everyone's availability.

Protocol | Enterprise

Startups are pouncing as SaaS giants struggle in the intelligence race

Companies like Salesforce and Workday spent the last two decades building walled gardens around their systems. Now, it's a mad dash to make those ecosystems more open.

Companies want to predict the future, and "systems of intelligence" might be their best bet.

Image: Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

Take a look at any software vendor's marketing materials and you're sure to see some variation of the word "intelligence" splattered everywhere.

It's part of a tectonic shift happening within enterprise technology. Companies spent the last several years moving their systems to the internet and, along the way, rapidly adopting new applications.

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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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Protocol | Workplace

The hottest new perk in tech: A week off for burnout recovery

In an industry where long hours are a "badge of honor," a week of rest may be the best way to retain talent.

Tech companies are giving their employees a week to rest and recover from burnout.

Photo: Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash

In early May, the founder of Lessonly, a company that makes training software, sent out a companywide email issuing a mandate to all employees. But it wasn't the sort of mandate employees around the world have been receiving related to vaccines and masks. This mandate required that every worker take an entire week off in July.

The announcement took Lessonly's staff by surprise. "We had employees reach out and share that they were emotional, just thankful that they had the opportunity to do this," said Megan Jarvis, who leads the company's talent team and worked on planning the week off.

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Aisha Counts
Aisha J. Counts is a reporting fellow at Protocol, based out of Los Angeles. Previously, she worked for Ernst & Young, where she researched and wrote about the future of work, the gig economy and startups. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where she studied business and philosophy.
Power

Chip costs are rising. How will that affect gadget prices?

The global chip shortage is causing component costs to go up, so hardware makers are finding new ways to keep their prices low.

Chips are getting more expensive, but most consumer electronics companies have so far resisted price increases.

Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

How do you get people to pay more for your products while avoiding sticker shock? That's a question consumer electronics companies are grappling with as worldwide chip shortages and component cost increases are squeezing their bottom lines.

One way to do it: Make more expensive and higher-margin products seem like a good deal to customers.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Protocol | Policy

Laws want humans to check biased AI. Research shows they can’t.

Policymakers want people to oversee — and override — biased AI. But research suggests there's no evidence to prove humans are up to the task.

The recent trend toward requiring human oversight of automated decision-making systems runs counter to mounting research about humans' inability to effectively override AI tools.

Photo: Jackal Pan/Getty Images

There was a time, not long ago, when a certain brand of technocrat could argue with a straight face that algorithms are less biased decision-makers than human beings — and not be laughed out of the room. That time has come and gone, as the perils of AI bias have entered mainstream awareness.

Awareness of bias hasn't stopped institutions from deploying algorithms to make life-altering decisions about, say, people's prison sentences or their health care coverage. But the fear of runaway AI has led to a spate of laws and policy guidance requiring or recommending that these systems have some sort of human oversight, so machines aren't making the final call all on their own. The problem is: These laws almost never stop to ask whether human beings are actually up to the job.

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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.

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