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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.
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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.

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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.

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