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.

Workplace

You need a healthy ‘debate culture’

From their first day, employees at Appian are encouraged to disagree with anyone at the company — including the CEO. Here’s how it works.

Appian co-founder and CEO Matt Calkins wants his employees to disagree with him.

Photo: Appian

Matt Calkins often hears that he’s polite, even deferential. But as CEO of Appian, he tells employees to challenge each other — especially their bosses — early and often.

“I love arguments. I love ideas clashing,” Calkins said. “I regard it as a personal compliment when someone respectfully dissents.”

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

Some of the most astounding tech-enabled advances of the next decade, from cutting-edge medical research to urban traffic control and factory floor optimization, will be enabled by a device often smaller than a thumbnail: the memory chip.

While vast amounts of data are created, stored and processed every moment — by some estimates, 2.5 quintillion bytes daily — the insights in that code are unlocked by the memory chips that hold it and transfer it. “Memory will propel the next 10 years into the most transformative years in human history,” said Sanjay Mehrotra, president and CEO of Micron Technology.

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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.

Gopuff says it will make it through the fast-delivery slump

Maria Renz on her new role, the state of fast delivery and Gopuff’s goals for the coming year.

Gopuff has raised $4 billion at a $15 billion valuation.

Photo: Gopuff

The fast-delivery boom sent startups soaring during the pandemic, only for them to come crashing down in recent months. But Maria Renz said Gopuff is prepared to get through the slump.

“Gopuff is really well-positioned to weather through those challenges that we expect in the next year or so,” Renz told Protocol. “We're first party, we control elements of our mix, like price, very directly. And again, we have nine years of experience.”

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Sarah Roach

Sarah (Sarahroach_) writes for Source Code at Protocol. She's a recent graduate of The George Washington University, where she studied journalism and criminal justice. She served for two years as editor-in-chief of GW's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet. Sarah is based in New York, and can be reached at sroach@protocol.com

Enterprise

AT&T CTO: Challenges of the cloud transition are interpersonal

Jeremy Legg sat down with Protocol to discuss the race to 5G, the challenges of the cloud transition and nabbing tech talent.

AT&T CTO Jeremy Legg spoke with Protocol about the company's cloud transition and more.

Photo: AT&T

Jeremy Legg is two months into his role as CTO of AT&T, and he has been tasked with a big mandate: transforming the company into a software-driven business, with 5G and fiber as core growth areas.

This isn’t Legg’s first CTO gig, just his biggest one. He’s an entertainment biz guy who’s now at the center of the much bigger, albeit less glamorous, telecom business. Prior to joining AT&T in 2020, Legg was the CTO of WarnerMedia, where he was the technical architect behind HBO Max.

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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.

Workplace

How Canva uses Canva

Design tips and tricks from the ultimate Canva pros: Canva employees themselves.

Employees use Canva to build the internal weekly “Canvazine,” product vision decks, team swag and more.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Ever wondered how the companies behind your favorite tech use their own products? We’ve told you how Spotify uses Spotify, How Slack uses Slack and how Meta uses its workplace tools. We talked to Canva employees about the creative ways they use the design tool.

The thing about Canva is that it's ridiculously easy to use. Anyone, regardless of skill level, can open up the app and produce a visually appealing presentation, infographic or video. The 10-year-old company has become synonymous with DIY design, serving as the preferred Instagram infographic app for the social justice “girlies.” Still, the app has plenty of overlooked features that Canvanauts (Canva’s word for its employees) use every day.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

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