Power

Google wants to (try to) make Google Glass cool again

Also this week: savvy virtual assistants, surveillance without violating people's privacy, and more patents from Big Tech.

Google Glass Enterprise 2

Is making these cool even possible?

Image: Google

This week was so full of fun patent applications that I didn't know where to start. We've got a throwback to 2013, a virtual assistant that knows when I've stopped talking, and headphones that can determine a user's hearing abilities.

But 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

A cooler-looking Google Glass

Released in 2013, Google Glass, Google's stab at smart glasses, hit a fever pitch before quietly dying two years later. When it first came out, everyone thought it was the coolest thing on earth: a head-up display! On your face! That can show you your calendar! Countless articles were written about how it looked, what it did, how it worked, how it might violate privacy, and why it failed. The term Glasshole was conceived. My former colleague Kyle Russell was even assaulted while wearing a pair.

Google released version 2.0 to business users in 2019, but the initial excitement over the hardware died down and lost in the annals of tech history. Until now, it seems, at least according to this patent, which outlines a process for making Glass look better and work with glasses and prescription glasses. The original Glass had a tiny display attached to lensless glasses. But by placing a photopolymer lens in between the two pieces of glass that make up typical eyeglasses, Google hopes that the wearer doesn't look as dorky. Jury's still out on that, though.

More-savvy virtual assistants

My home is a smart home. I have a Google speaker or display in every room, I have Nest Cams, I have a Nest Hello and a Nest Learning Thermostat. I never really consider that my house is listening to me, even though I know that it is. At its simplest, I use my devices to turn on lights and play music, and at its most extreme, I use the speakers to enhance books that I'm reading to my kid, using the Read Along with Google feature. But sometimes I wonder if it's still listening even if I've stopped reading or talking to it — and especially when I've started talking about something private.

This patent takes that into consideration and offers a better way for the system to know that I've stopped talking by using various data points — such as my reading speed, other noises that imply I've moved to do something else, coughing — to signal that I've stopped reading.

Identifying explicit video content

YouTube is notorious for allowing objectionable content to seep into various parts of the app: This study shows that its algorithms often recommend false or sexualized content, explicit content is recommended to children, and YouTube still includes health misinformation. YouTube uses machine learning to try to catch some of the objectionable content before it's served up to users, and it's even hired moderators to try tackling the problem. Moderation efforts are working somewhat — in April, the company boasted that "violative view rate" was down 70% from 2017 — but clearly more work needs to be done.

This patent looks at improving how neural networks find objectionable content, using various combinations of inputs, such as comparing it to other videos that contain explicit content; analyzing the tags or title of the video; analyzing certain aspects of the video; and using various machine learning methods, such as triplet loss, to determine whether the video should be flagged.

Amazon

Hey machine, I'm talking to you

You can set up virtual assistants, like the Nest Hub and the Echo, to recognize certain voices at home. That allows the device to serve up personalized information, depending on who's asking it the questions.

This patent takes that scenario and expands on it, laying out a way for voice assistants to recognize different people outside of the home and can use natural language to give it commands. One of the examples provided imagines a coffee shop. A patron walks in, says three words to a voice assistant that's maybe installed in a POS; the machine recognizes that person's voice and pulls up account information.

Once everything is confirmed, the person could say, "I'd like a latte with an extra shot," and the system makes and then serves the coffee drink. At the same time, the computer sends a purchase order to the coffee shop's system. A hot cup of coffee without having to talk to anyone before I've had the coffee sounds like a dream.

Apple

Rejoice, copy editors!

I've been a copy editor for most of my journalism career, which means I'm expected to know how things are spelled, various grammar rules, and how to make sentences sound better. But when I write out a text or email on an iPhone, you'd think that I've never written a sentence in my entire life. My fat fingers often hit the wrong keys, and sometimes if I'm in a hurry, even my sentence structure is embarrassing.

This patent aims to help me and my fellow copy editors by teaching a machine to look out for errors, as well. Using a neural network, my phone would be able to not only correct my spelling, but also compare it to various other words that are spelled the same, and make sure I'm using the appropriate one.

Facebook

Determining hearing abilities

This patent makes so much sense, I'm surprised it hasn't been done yet (and if it has, please email me and let me know!). Headphones as they are made now are pretty much configured for people who have no hearing loss. This patent imagines a set of headphones that can be customized to the user, by doing a hearing assessment right on the spot. After receiving the data, the headphones could automatically adjust to turn up or turn down certain frequency levels or otherwise enhance the audio to help the wearer feel comfortable.

Microsoft

Surveillance without the privacy violations

Cameras are everywhere, monitoring our every move. But when capturing this information, certain steps must be taken to ensure privacy. Blacklisting, or providing rules around what can't be seen, are often prone to errors, which can not only violate people's privacy, but can violate laws as well.

This patent lays out how to improve these methods, using whitelisting methods instead. Teaching the machine to recognize what is allowed, rather than what is not, can help improve this functionality in more-precise ways. In fact, the patent references tests where whitelisting was around 5,000 times more accurate than blacklisting.

Entertainment

The (gaming) clones never stopped attacking

Clones keep getting through app review despite App Store rules about copying. It's a sign of the weaknesses in mobile app stores — and the weakness in Big Tech’s after-the-fact moderation approach.

Clones aren't always illegal, but they are widely despised.

Image: Disney

Two of the most fundamental tenets of the mobile gaming market:

  1. Free always wins.
  2. No good gaming idea is safe from copycats.

In combination, these two rules help produce what the industry calls a clone. Most often, clones are low-effort, ripped-off versions of popular games that monetize in not-so-savory fashion while drawing in players with a price tag of zero.

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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.
Sponsored Content

A CCO’s viewpoint on top enterprise priorities in 2022

The 2022 non-predictions guide to what your enterprise is working on starting this week

As Honeywell’s global chief commercial officer, I am privileged to have the vantage point of seeing the demands, challenges and dynamics that customers across the many sectors we cater to are experiencing and sharing.

This past year has brought upon all businesses and enterprises an unparalleled change and challenge. This was the case at Honeywell, for example, a company with a legacy in innovation and technology for over a century. When I joined the company just months before the pandemic hit we were already in the midst of an intense transformation under the leadership of CEO Darius Adamczyk. This transformation spanned our portfolio and business units. We were already actively working on products and solutions in advanced phases of rollouts that the world has shown a need and demand for pre-pandemic. Those included solutions in edge intelligence, remote operations, quantum computing, warehouse automation, building technologies, safety and health monitoring and of course ESG and climate tech which was based on our exceptional success over the previous decade.

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Jeff Kimbell
Jeff Kimbell is Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Honeywell. In this role, he has broad responsibilities to drive organic growth by enhancing global sales and marketing capabilities. Jeff has nearly three decades of leadership experience. Prior to joining Honeywell in 2019, Jeff served as a Partner in the Transformation Practice at McKinsey & Company, where he worked with companies facing operational and financial challenges and undergoing “good to great” transformations. Before that, he was an Operating Partner at Silver Lake Partners, a global leader in technology and held a similar position at Cerberus Capital LP. Jeff started his career as a Manufacturing Team Manager and Engineering Project Manager at Procter & Gamble before becoming a strategy consultant at Bain & Company and holding executive roles at Dell EMC and Transamerica Corporation. Jeff earned a B.S. in electrical engineering at Kansas State University and an M.B.A. at Dartmouth College.
Entertainment

Beat Saber, Bored Apes and more: What to do this weekend

Don't know what to do this weekend? We've got you covered.

Images: Ross Belot/Flickr; IGBD; BAYC

This week we’re listening to “Harvest Moon” on repeat; burning some calories playing Beat Saber; and learning all about the artist behind the goofy ape pics that everyone (including Gwyneth Paltrow?) is talking about.

Neil Young: Off Spotify? No problem.

Neil Young removed his music from Spotify this week, but countless recordings are still available on YouTube, including this 1971 video of him performing “Heart of Gold” in front of a live studio audience, complete with some charming impromptu banter. And while you’re there, scroll down and read a few of the top-rated comments. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

'Archive 81': Not based on a book, but on a podcast!

Netflix’s latest hit show is a supernatural mystery horror mini-series, and I have to admit that I was on the fence about it many times, in part because the plot just often didn’t add up. But then the main character, Dan the film buff and archivist, would put on his gloves, get in the zone, and meticulously restore a severely damaged, decades old video tape, and proceed to look for some meaning beyond the images. That ritual, and the sentiment that we produce, consume and collect media for something more than meets the eye, ultimately saved the show, despite some shortcomings.

'Secrets of Sulphur Springs': Season 2 is out now

If you’re looking for a mystery that's a little more family-friendly, give this show about a haunted hotel, time travel, and kids growing up in a world that their parents don’t fully understand a try. Season 2 dropped on Disney+ this month, and it not only includes a lot more time travel mysteries, but even uses the show’s time machine to tackle subjects as serious as reparations.

The artist behind those Bored Apes

Remember how NFTs are supposed to generate royalties with every resale, and thus support artists better than any of their existing revenue streams? Seneca, the artist who was instrumental in creating those iconic apes for the Bored Ape Yacht Club, wasn’t able to share details about her compensation in this Rolling Stone profile, but it sure sounds like she is not getting her fair share.

Beat Saber: Update incoming

Years later, Beat Saber remains my favorite VR game, which is why I was very excited to see a teaser video for cascading blocks, which could be arriving any day now. Time to bust out the Quest for some practice time this weekend!

Correction: Story has been updated to correct the spelling of Gwyneth Paltrow's name. This story was updated Jan. 28, 2022.


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.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. 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.

Workplace

Mental health at work is still taboo. Here's how to make it easier.

Tech leaders, HR experts and organizational psychologists share tips for how to destigmatize mental health at work.

How to de-stigmatize mental health at work, according to experts.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

When the pandemic started, HR software startup Phenom knew that its employees were going to need mental health support. So it started offering a meditation program, as well as a counselor available for therapy sessions.

To Chief People Officer Brad Goldoor’s surprise, utilization of these benefits was very low, starting at about a 10% take rate and eventually weaning off. His diagnosis: People still aren’t fully comfortable opening up about mental health, and they’re especially not comfortable engaging with their employer on the topic.

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Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Fintech

Robinhood's regulatory troubles are just the tip of the iceberg

It’s easiest to blame Robinhood’s troubles on regulatory fallout, but its those troubles have obscured the larger issue: The company lacks an enduring competitive edge.

A crypto comeback might go a long way to help Robinhood’s revenue

Image: Olena Panasovska / Alex Muravev / Protocol

It’s been a full year since Robinhood weathered the memestock storm, and the company is now in much worse shape than many of us would have guessed back in January 2021. After announcing its Q4 earnings last night, Robinhood’s stock plunged into the single digits — just below $10 — down from a recent high of $70 in August 2021. That means Robinhood’s valuation dropped more than 84% in less than six months.

Investor confidence won’t be bolstered much by yesterday’s earnings results. Total net revenues dropped to $363 million from $365 million in the preceding quarter. In the quarter before that, Robinhood reported a much better $565 million in net revenue. Net losses were bad but not quite as bad as before: Robinhood reported a $423 million net loss in Q4, an improvement from the $1.3 billion net loss in Q3 2021. One of the most shocking data points: Average revenue per user dropped to $64, down from a recent high of $137 in Q1 2021. At the same time, Robinhood actually reported a decrease in monthly active users, from 18.9 million in Q3 2021 to 17.3 million in Q4 2021.

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Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

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