- 5 steps to training a chatbot
- The REAL reason your startup shouldn’t have an office
- How AI is revolutionizing customer experience and expectations (VB Live)
- It would be a shame to skip the kinetic action of Titanfall 2 this season
- Israel’s blockchain startups look to disrupt more than banking
- Logitech’s G810 Orion keyboard makes a strong case for its Romer-G mechanical switches
- How to launch your startup
- MSI’s VR One Backpack PC now on preorder for $2,000, ships November 30
- Line abandons U.S. (for now), says AI and chatbots are the secret to winning 4 Asian markets
- The 4 levels of bots: How to stop worrying and love AI
- Twitter’s time to prove it can defend against harassment is now
- Global industry groups voice opposition to China cyber security law
- Lending platform Blackmoon raises $2.5 million in new funding
- IMAX’s $50 million fund could buoy the VR ecosystem
- Twitter impresses advertisers with BuzzFeed U.S. election livestream
- NES Classic Edition is now on sale … oh, and now it’s sold out
- GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons passes 11 million downloads in North America
- 8 technologies in Westworld and when we’ll see them
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 02:00 PM PST
So you're thinking of implementing a chatbot like every other company on the planet. Now, the issue is about training the thing.
There has been an endless stream of coverage about all of the wonderful things chatbots are going to do for business by automating conversations with customers. The problem is, bots are only as good as the training that goes into them and training isn't something you just knock off in a few days.
Many bot startups seem to want to treat bots like an IVR, choose the top 20 use cases and training your bot around those needs. Considering IVR is probably the most hated piece of technology invented in the last 50 years, replicating that process is probably a horrible idea.
Very few, if any, bot vendors have actually operated these things out in the wild with millions of customer interactions over a number of years so it makes sense that we're not yet hearing about the best practices when it comes to training a bot. The reality of training a bot is a little more complex than might be obvious at first glance.
At the highest level you need to consider all of the various channels that customers are using to contact you (such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Kik, WeChat, web chat, mobile apps, Amazon Alexa, and many others), the unique UI capabilities of each channel and multiple languages to be supported. You definitely don't want to train in multiple systems.
This is a little more complex than just plugging in the top 20 use cases, so let's look at the best way to train a bot to deliver real value to your enterprise and customers.
Step 1: Pre-training your bot
This is what many bot companies are pitching as the entire training program, when it is really only the first step of a real training plan. This is where you go to your customer care or tech support department and see what they think are the top reasons your customers are contacting your company. By sampling the chat logs, call recordings and digging through the typical support material that the reps use you will get closer to understanding the customer intent. This is a decent place to get started on training your bot.
Step 2: Analysis of all customer interactions
Every day your customers are telling you what they want to know and what they really care about. Many bot companies assume that you will know what your customers want and if you don't that it is your problem to figure it out. A tool that analyzes customer questions in real time is a key piece of any bot solution. The analysis will tell you what your customers actually want to do with your bot and will let you focus your training efforts where it pays the biggest dividends. This is the step where you determine the bot priorities relative to customer needs. This is the most important part of any bot training framework.
Step 3: Train the bot
With all of the rich information coming from the analytics, you now know how to train the bot. A good bot solution will now let you match your bot to the best platform and take into consideration each platform’s capabilities and limitations. What you present in Facebook Messenger won't work in a pure text messaging bot, and what you can present in Twitter may not work in your web chat UI.
A well architected system will let you train for both conversational and Q&A types of platforms in one system. Multiple languages should be automatically generated or updated if you have created a new scenario or just updated an existing one. Training multiple bots to solve this problem is insanity, as described in this previous Venturebeat article.
Step 4: Measure the effectiveness
Use every question from every customer from every channel every day to determine how effective your bot is. There are many ways to measure the level of satisfaction of your customers during their interaction with the bot. Over time you will determine normal thresholds for each parameter and then can use anything outside the norm as an indicator of failure. Your false positive rate should be monitored closely here. Delivering the wrong answer is far worse than not delivering an answer at all so this is critical to measure. If you are delivering the wrong answers more than 3% of the time your system should be taken back to the drawing board.
Step 5: Continuously improve
The process of training your bot never ends. Even if you have a simple pizza ordering bot you're going to have to continuously learn new languages from your customers about how they want to order, add new platform support and new products. If you have a more complex business and are using your bot for customer service then you should plan to invest a considerable effort in ongoing training.
Don't get caught up in the bot hype and deploy something that is going to create more work in the longer term. A fully thought out customer strategy will provide large customer satisfaction and economic benefits.
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 01:15 PM PST
Offices are dead — at least in the way we use them today. Why? Because they limit your resources.
Let me explain.
Offices are about proximity. You pull all your employees together into one building where they can interact and share resources. Of course, we don't need physical proximity anymore due to social collaboration tools, telepresence, and coworking spaces that provide shared resources. But that's not the reason we should kill offices as we know them.
The real reason is that proximity equals isolation.
"But we work in a coworking space,” you might say. “We meet people, have coffees, network, blah, blah, blah.”
No. One coworking space is not enough. What you need is to literally have each of your employees in a different communal space.
Here’s why: If you had to choose between a larger network or more physical proximity for your team, which would you pick?
Consider what happened to me today. My startup had a technical issue we didn't know how to solve. It would have taken us more than half a day to figure it out. One of our developers who works remotely from another town, from another coworking space, said: "Guys, let me ask a guy who sits besides me."
Problem solved in 15 minutes. Money saved, time saved, frustrations saved.
But here is the key: If he had worked in the same coworking space as others on the team, he wouldn’t have had access to any help beyond the people already around us. Because our team is spread out across coworking spaces (partly because our business targets the coworking market), our capabilities expand exponentially as our employee numbers increase.
That's why you need your people to leverage as many distinct networks as possible — a distributed team working from different coworking spaces multiplies the inputs, contacts, and inspirations that feed into your company.
Our small team is comprised of people working from seven different cities and three different countries, many of whom have never met one another. Yet we really are and feel a team.
And it’s not just the distance that’s an asset but the cultural diversity it brings. We’re able to tap into radically different perspectives in a world (that of startups) that often lacks them.
So what are the takeaways?
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 12:15 PM PST
By 2020, customer experience is going to be wiping the floor with price and product as the key brand differentiators. Customers are seeking personalized, human experiences — and ironically, artificial intelligence is the key to nailing that, and at scale. Catch up on this VB Live event for in-depth insight into what brands need to drive customer loyalty in 2017.
"It’s very important for marketers to be extraordinarily cognizant of people as people, and to market to their needs directly," says Robert Hoffer, founder of Smarter Child — the internet's first, and wildly popular, chatbot. In our recent VB LIve evnet, Hoffer went on to explain: "We have more opportunity to do that because we’re literally right in every customer’s pocket. And that’s true whether you’re dealing with them online, whether they’re watching a television advertisement, or whether they’re walking around in a retail store."
As marketers, we have an unprecedented opportunity to track customers and create profiles of who they are, said Stewart Rogers, director of marketing technology at VentureBeat. "By understanding those journeys, understanding the brands that they visit, we’re able to actually build personas around people," he explained. "We understand what they like, what they enjoy, what they spend money on, and can therefore deliver personalized recommendations that don’t feel like advertisements any more. They feel a little bit like an assistant."
Nick Edwards, CEO of Boomtrain, noted that artificial intelligence is the key. "AI at its core is really about observation, and using those observations to make human experiences just that — just more human," he says. He calls it empathetic observation: moving beyond superficial, static snapshots of your customer. "Taking that story, taking those insights beyond just the superficial into something that’s deeper, much more empathetic, is where the stories really begin."
And this ultimately is what artificial intelligence promises, he added. "It is the science of understanding and acting upon your customers’ stories," he explained. "Extending this empathetic observation at internet scale is really what the promise of AI-powered customer experience is really all about."
As AI and machine learning continue to play an essential role in enabling optimized customer experiences, Rogers said, customers seem to be responding — and their expectations are going up. "The DMA recently did a study, and almost half — 48 percent of the respondents — expressed an interest in artificial intelligence approaches to engagement," Rogers says. "That increases dramatically for younger age groups," he continues. In the 16-to-24 and 25-to-34 categories, 75 to 85 percent of people are interested in AI as a concept, and having their smartphones and other devices help them through the day based on the data they’re giving to these services and systems.
And it's powerful stuff, Hoffers said. "Whether you’re presenting a conversational bot through a messaging interface or through one of the large popular Facebook or Slack messaging interfaces, or whether you’re presenting in mobile, you have a direct ability to influence what the customer is doing by understanding more about the intent of the user," he explained.
So really it becomes something that is much more about showing people the vanilla experience versus the personalized one, Rogers said. "Getting their consent to give you the information — because once they do, you can do some really outstanding things. And those consumers want you to do those outstanding things for them right now."
It's clearly time to take AI one step further. Catch up now on this VB Live event to harness the power of hyperpersonalization that consumers are asking for. You'll learn how to build and design the customer experience by using AI and machine learning, how successful companies are moving the needle toward optimized customer engagement, and how to get started today.
Don’t miss out!
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 12:10 PM PST
Titanfall 2 is an awesome game, and it would be very sad if it got overlooked in the crowded slate of fall titles. In a moment of folly, Electronic Arts released Titanfall 2 on October 28, a week after EA’s Battlefield 1 debut and a week before Activision released Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It was a mistake for EA to do that, but you shouldn’t make the mistake of not playing it.
Predictably, Titanfall 2 got sandwiched. According to analyst Ben Schachter of Macquarie Capital, Titanfall 2 units were down dramatically in the first couple of days of the launch compared to the original Titanfall released in March 2014. The original Titanfall generated more than $500 million in sales, even though it was released as an exclusive Microsoft’s platforms and it was a multiplayer-only game. It was one of the highest-rated shooters for more than a year.
We’ll see what full-month sales look like in November, but indications are that Titanfall 2 sales are weak, even though the game debuted across the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. This time, Respawn’s game designers took pains to craft a single-player campaign with a real story. I’ve played the single-player campaign on the Xbox One and enjoyed the multiplayer combat as well. I think it’s a spectacular game, just as my colleague Jeff Grubb said in GamesBeat’s official review. He gave it a 95 out of 100, and I wouldn’t quibble with that review score. That means you should play it, as it’s a unique shooter that gives you two games in one, one focused on the Pilot and the other focused on the giant mech, or Titan. This game didn’t get nearly as much pre-launch hype as other big titles, but it is one of the rare cases of living up to the hype.
The rare thing about Titanfall 2 is that it has real gameplay innovations that I haven’t seen in other shooters. And it is a hyper-kinetic games, where you can effortlessly run on walls and jump into giant mechs, known as Titans. The game was designed in a way that makes movement fluid. And when you are in motion, you have an advantage over other enemies.
“For us, the first Titanfall was kind of a proof of concept, trying to innovate in the genre and come up with something new,” said Dusty Welch, chief operating officer at Respawn, in an interview with GamesBeat. "Something new" ended up predominantly in multiplayer, which was that fluidity of movement, the motion model that was built. You had the small thing — a pilot — and the large thing — a Titan — and how they interacted together, with the ability to get out at any time and interact with the environment. To be so mobile was unique. Most shooters are corridors and hallways, playing whack-a-mole.”
You start out the game as a Grunt soldier named Jack Cooper. His ambition is to be a Pilot, the operator of a Titan. But he has to do his time in the infantry. Then, in a battlefield promotion, he gets a chance to be a Pilot in a Titan named B.T., and he has to help the Frontier Militia defend itself against the bad guys at the Interstellar Manufacturing Co. (IMC).
Respawn forces you to master the mechanics of playing this first-person shooter. In the tutorial, you have to learn how to jump and run on walls. Once you do that, you start out as an infantry soldier in the first mission. Then you learn how to use your Titan. And with each mission, you get to try out the six different models of Titans in the game. On some missions, you have to go on foot to fetch a battery to power the Titan or climb a huge structure. As the story progresses, you learn to master the game controls and mechanics.
Over time, you become attached to your Titan, B.T., almost like a child and his or her dog. That story gets better throughout the campaign, as you realize that Cooper and B.T. earn each other’s respect, and B.T.’s loyalty grows deeper over time, like when you watch the film Terminator 2, with Arnold Schwarzenegger bonding with the young John Connor. That becomes a touching part of the story. While Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has a better story in my view, Titanfall 2’s story is also surprisingly good.
But I got the sense that the story was always in service of showing you better and better game mechanics throughout the well-paced campaign. There are some epic one-on-one duels. Here’s a great battle with multiple Titans in the video below.
You start running on walls and bouncing between them. That’s wonderfully fun. And while it makes no sense in the story, you’ll realize it belongs in the game if you accept that Respawn is trying to give you a kind of Super Mario experience. Fighting as a Pilot, you can also take out huge groups of infantry by activating your stealth cloak that makes you temporarily invisible. With the grappling hook, you don’t have to sit back and take out infantry with a sniper rifle. In battles on a capital ship, you can charge right in and just take out a big swath of enemies. You can charge a Titan using the grappling hook, take out its battery, and then move on before you’re shot. You’re almost better off if you’re moving, rather than hiding or hanging back.
” One of our big goals was to give people more things to master. The first game, like you said, you ended up defaulting to one little corner of the arsenal. One thing we didn't do well, we didn't expose every part of the game so people could feel like they could learn and get really good at all of it. That's been a huge focus,” said Drew McCoy, producer of Titanfall 2, in an interview with GamesBeat.
Late in the single-player campaign, you are introduced to an enemy Titan named Viper while fighting on a moving capital ship. Viper engages in silly banter while fighting you, even though you’ve only met for the first time. But Viper is fun to fight as it flies in the air and fires rockets at you. Again, this only makes sense if gameplay is more important than story. But Respawn makes no apology for that.
“We failed a whole bunch at the beginning, so we went back to the drawing board and what we know to be the most true north star of Respawn, which is gameplay first,” said McCoy. “We set out our designers, a week at a time, to figure out what makes single-player Titanfall fun.”
He added, “The designers had this well of mechanics to pull from and string together into levels. Then we figured out a story to marry with those levels. The story focuses down, not up. This isn't a story about a big galactic war and all the players on the board. It's a story about one guy and his Titan.”
While this story fits this game, I would argue that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare has a better story and one that fits that particular game. That’s why I wouldn’t really say that you should play either game. You should play both, and you should also play Battlefield 1, which has an excellent series of vignettes about World War I.
Here’s the video of the fight with Viper. The battle shows that the visuals of Titanfall 2 are just as pretty as many of the other shooters out today.
There’s an awesome game mechanic in the single-player campaign. You come upon it late in the game, and it involves fighting against both the human enemies and the indigenous life forms on the planet. I won’t give it away, but it really makes the single-player campaign fun. It’s a twist that I’ve never seen in a first-person shooter before, and it’s a really good reason to play it.
Multiplayer is also very balanced in Titanfall 2. I can actually fight and take down other pilots, particularly if I get into my Titan and start wreaking havoc on the battlefield. By contrast, it is extremely hard to stay alive for long early on in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Because of this difference, you may have a fighting chance in Titanfall 2 multiplayer, and it may be more enjoyable to level up in Titanfall 2 than Call of Duty.
All in all, I have to say it again. Don’t skip Titanfall 2. You may not have time to play all three right now, but make sure you come back to it. You won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a video of a boss fight with Richter, one of the villains of Titanfall 2.
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 11:05 AM PST
A Deloitte report released earlier this year describes 38 Israeli startups currently developing blockchain applications ranging across the entire spectrum of services: security, hardware, new currency, payments, P2P, online commerce, and social platforms.
These early-stage blockchain startups have been working closely with large, well-established financial institutions, banks in particular — a striking contrast to blockchain startups elsewhere in the world. From Bank Leumi’s ‘Elevator’ Innovation Hub to Bank Ha’Poalim’s partnership with Microsoft Ventures, these banks support promising candidates with funding, access, connections and guidance.
These ventures are just a small part of the fast-growing Israeli fintech industry, which has quintupled its number of companies since 2009, from 90 to 430.
Yet, in Israel, blockchain development does not stop at fintech. Many young companies are exploring new sectors and innovative ways to apply distributed ledger technology in exciting ways. One Israeli blockchain use-case that has garnered a lot of attention is within the music industry. Revelator, partnering with Colu – a leading Israeli colored-coins startup — efficiently tracks music rights and distributes royalties to rights owners in a transparent and reliable way using Colu’s blockchain platform. Revelator's functionality gives individuals a way to effectively control their music, rights, and income, which goes to the very core of blockchain’s greatest potential: the ability to remove the middleman. It essentially shifts power back into the hands of “the little guys”, no longer dependent on production and management companies, infamous for locking talent, and especially fledgling young artists, into draconian contracts.
La’Zooz is another Israeli blockchain startup poised to fully overhaul a market — this time transportation. When Uber first came on the scene, many were overjoyed at the prospect of redefining the industry and breaking up the taxicab monopoly. But Uber has since developed into a mega-company with concentrated ownership and growing market-share, essentially reiterating the structure it replaced. La’Zooz offers an efficient ride-sharing solution, but without the Big Man at the top. The La'Zooz network exists on the devices of its community of users, generating “zooz” tokens with “proof of movement”. Basically, driving earns you “zooz”, which can be used to pay for rides from others in the community. It's self-sustaining and truly decentralized ride-sharing.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the Israeli Synereo platform, which was recently singled-out as a major Ethereum contender. Lately, the company expanded operations beyond its initially proposed decentralized social network, to a blockchain enabled decentralized computation platform that could run an entire array of decentralized applications.
Companies like Synereo and Colu providing access to blockchain architecture are vital to the further growth of the industry, allowing more companies to enter the market, limited only by the scope of their own imagination.
Blockchain startups in fintech may land massive pay-outs if they can successfully penetrate the huge financial markets. However, it’s important to remember that finance is a heavily regulated, slow-moving industry that requires strict adherence to rules and protocols. This process will be timely, costly and require discipline; qualities which many Israeli startups don’t have. Moreover, at their core, these fintech applications merely offer centralized, third-party banking and financial institutions mediating between individuals.
In comparison, applications like Revelator and La’Zooz are redefining markets by using blockchain's truly trustless, secure, peer-to-peer attributes. Such markets are significantly more flexible and less regulated than finance. Perhaps they are more risky, with lower short-term profit, but the real, long-term pay-offs of blockchain may just be beyond fintech.
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 10:00 AM PST
Mechanical-keyboard enthusiasts are intense about their love of loud, clicky keys — and most know exactly the kind of mechanical switch that they like (Cherry MX Blue for me). But Logitech believes this space has room to grow along with different kinds of switches from companies that aren’t named Cherry. It’s making that argument with the G810 Orion.
Logitech G810 Orion Spectrum
The Logitech G810 Orion Spectrum keyboard is $160 device that’s out now and features the Romer-G switch that Logitech has the exclusive rights to. This is still a mechanical actuator — unlike the membrane keyboards that use a rubbery, smush dome material — but it feels and sounds different. But while it is somewhat unfamiliar, the G810 has some benefits that are worth exploring. It has 26-key rollover (meaning you can hit 26 keys simultaneously and the computer will receive all of them), great media controls, and Logitech’s Spectrum RGB lighting — and you shouldn’t dismiss those switches without trying them.
What you’ll like
Nice Romer-G switches with respectable keycaps
Let’s talk about those Romer-G switches. If you don’t know why you should care about this, you probably won’t. But a lot of people are serious about the kinds of switches used in their mechanical keyboards, and they are not all the same.
Cherry switches connect the keycap (the plastic part your fingers touch) with the switch using a tiny cross that sits in the center of the switch. With Romer-G, the key connects to a border piece that supports it on all four corners. This creates a lot more stability for the keys, so they don’t feel as wobbly as many Cherry MX devices. But this also means those switches don’t have quite as much life in them as some may want.
For me, I’ve grown to appreciate the sound and feel of typing on the G810. The Romer-G switches don’t pop as a Cherry Blue or Brown do, but they still feel great to type on. Additionally, the keycaps feel really sturdy and high-quality. That’s often a piece of the mechanical-keyboard puzzle that companies ignore — but Logitech didn’t. The keycaps aren’t custom or specialized, they just feel like strong, thick plastic material that feels nice against your fingertips.
For the style, Logitech is going for something simple with the G810. It has a nice matte-black finish for the plate cover around the keycaps. I also like the relatively minimal bezel around the sides and bottom of the keyboard. This should enable shooter players to get in right on top of their keys without bumping their wrists.
I also think the Romer-G switches enable Logitech to do something impressive with its Spectrum RGB LED lighting. Since the switch is a border, Logitech can put the LED right into the core of the keyboard. This enables the light to burst evenly through the top of the key, and that creates a mesmerizing effect when you see some of the more active lighting settings. Whether the keyboard is rapidly flipping through the rainbow spectrum or reacting to a Spectrum-compatible video game, the illumination is always bright and beautiful.
What you won’t like
Proprietary connect for the caps
While Logitech has nailed this keyboard’s design, it will annoy some people that you can’t replace the keycaps on the G810. The Romer-G switches are proprietary, and that means you can’t go online and buy some really nice caps of your own. You’re stuck with Logitech’s standard set — which isn’t terrible considering their quality.
A lot of people are going to have a bad first impression of the G810 because they aren’t used to the Romer-G keys. But if you aren’t immediately turned off, you should consider this keyboard because it does everything else
Logitech provided GamesBeat with a sample unit for the purposes of this review. It is out now for $160.
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 09:15 AM PST
Everyone in Silicon Valley has their own theory about how to launch a startup. There's the “Soft Launch,” the “Rolling Launch,” the “Steady Drumbeat Launch.” You get the idea.
Then there's the founder who brags that he didn't spend a dime on marketing and sold his company for a gazillion dollars (that rarity — of which WhatsApp is a great example — is responsible for more company failures than we can count).
But for 98 percent of us — the ones who haven't caught the market at the perfect time with the perfect product — there is “The Launch.” It's your coming-out party, the milestone that moves your company officially from stealth or "in the bunker" into the public marketplace with a generally available product. In other words, this is it. Don't screw it up.
To make the most of that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity requires planning, care, collaboration, and creativity. Even in the era of The Lean Startup, with its iterative approach to tuning your product feature set and product applications based upon active customer feedback, nailing the official debut of your company is a huge deal. It's possible to survive a botched launch but not likely.
Some startups launch to "legitimize" their business in the eyes of customers and potential investors. Everything that takes place prior to your launch — even if you have a preliminary website — can be regarded as trial and error. Typically, your launch is your announcement to a wide variety of audiences — customers, investors, market analysts, the press, the competition — that you're serious and open for business. You've polished and defined your market message through components like your website, sales content, and PR. Perhaps you've even upgraded your office space. All because customers want to do business with a brand they trust, one that they believe has staying power. Same for the next round of investors. Same for employees. Every startup wants to look larger than they are, and an official public debut (including favorable press coverage) can go a long way to achieving those business goals.
There are other reasons to launch. Some startups will tell you that their launch was key in attracting the right talent to build their team in a competitive job market. Others say that, post-launch, they were approached by investors or potential partners who wouldn't return their calls prior to launch. Bottom line: Your launch is about investing in getting your story out into the marketplace in a powerful, differentiated, memorable, and unified way in order to connect with stakeholders so you can grow your business and scale your company.
The soft launch
In contrast to a one-time, major launch, some companies will choose a soft launch, which is usually phase one of a two-phase launch that involves a greater focus on the company than on the product. It may focus primarily on the founding team, its market space and the funding it has received. It may also involve a limited release of the product but without significant details.
When is a soft launch appropriate? Here are four reasons to go that direction:
1. Recruiting. Startups, especially in the super-heated and super-competitive job market of Silicon Valley, will often soft launch in order to use the visibility it generates to be able to recruit top talent to build out their team.
2. Competition. A startup may believe a competitor is going to beat it to market. In order to be first – to define the market on its own terms and to set the stage for why its technology is superior – the startup will launch in two phases, with a soft launch intended to blunt the competition and relegate them to second-to-market.
3. Buzz-building. To be the shiny new thing in tech, even in a less sexy, geeky market segment, can be a very valuable, momentum-building period. Social media and press buzz can help a startup accelerate recruiting, fundraising, and customer development.
4. Enterprise-ready. Large enterprises are more sophisticated these days about the value of new technology from young startups. But that doesn't mean they want to risk a vital portion of their IT operation and budget on a product from a newly minted startup. But, the market validation and favorable coverage by analysts and press of a soft launch can convey a great deal of legitimacy to a young startup that can help it close pivotal deals with early-adopter, brand-name enterprise customers.
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 09:10 AM PST
MSI wants to make virtual reality mobile by taking its new PC and strapping it to your back. And now you can preorder that rig.
The VR One is now on Newegg. The lower-end model, which features a GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and an Intel i7 processor, costs $2,000 and ships November 30. The higher-end model features a GTX 1070 and 512GB SSD costs $2,300, though the site doesn't list a shipping date for it. UploadVR has reached out to MSI to confirm that all the the info listed on the site is accurate.
Each device has a battery life of around an hour and a half, and features swappable batteries. They weigh in at 7.9 pounds.
As the name suggests, the VR One is designed specifically for VR headsets. For now, it's best suited to the HTC Vive, as it enables you to walk around environments with room-scale tracking without the headset’s wire tugging behind your head as you walk further away from a standard rig. The kit may also appeal to Oculus Rift owners looking to set up their own room-scale environments when the Oculus Touch controllers and extra sensors launch early next month.
The real question is if these backpacks are a genuine solution for wireless VR that enthusiasts will accept in the short term. That question was cast further into doubt yesterday as HTC and TYPCAST announced an upgrade kit for the HTC Vive that made it wireless. MSI isn't the only one in this niche space, though, with Alienwareand XMG also presenting VR backpacks throughout 2016.
This post first appeared on UploadVR.
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 08:02 AM PST
Often focusing on what you know best makes the most sense. In a nutshell, that's the current business strategy of Line, the popular Japanese messaging platform. In an interview with VentureBeat’s editor in chief Blaise Zerega, Line CEO Takeshi Idezawa explained his decision to focus on four Asian markets: Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.
A few years ago, Line sought to enter Western markets. The messaging app known for cute anime stickers encountered stiff competition from overlappng services in an overcrowded market — from WhatsApp to Snapchat, from Twitter to Instagram, from iMessage and SMS, as well as China's WeChat, to say nothing of Facebook Messenger. Line scaled back its expansion, shelved a planned IPO, and narrowed its focus to four Asian markets. Earlier this year, the company staged a $1.1 billion IPO and most recently reported third quarter earnings of $35.9 billion yen (about $342 million), up from $33.9 billion yen in the previous quarter.
Line has become the top messaging platform in three Asian markets: Japan, Taiwan and Thailand, and claims second place in Indonesia. Idezawa aims to make the Line service so integral to the lives of its users that his company will build an insurmountable advantage against its Western and Chinese rivals in the chat wars to come.
To accomplish this, Idezawa is betting on the law of big numbers: Become the top messaging app in a particular market and organic growth follows. He has said Line will launch a Slack-like version for the workplace early next year. He's also looking to video and other services to lengthen session duration and increase revenues. And above all, he's investing in AI and chatbots to prepare for an eventual global marketplace dominated by a small number of messaging platforms.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. It was conducted via a translator at Web Summit on November 8, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.
VentureBeat: You've said that Line would be exclusively focused on Asia, particularly four countries: Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. Does that mean you've ceded the U.S. market to Facebook Messenger and Apple iMessage?
Takeshi Idezawa: It's a question of selection. We're focusing on the four Asian countries and we've been doing that for two years now. One reason is that Asia is a growing market. It's also a market where US companies find it difficult to enter. And since there is a very strong network effect, once a major app has a very significant or high share of the market it is very difficult to replace it. These are the reasons we decided to focus on the four Asian markets two years ago.
VB: You've also said that you're concentrating on these four countries is to participate in the region's expected economic growth. When do you think it will occur?
Idezawa: Many reports say that the middle class [in Asia] will grow exponentially by 2020. So our business will focus on Asia until 2020.
VB: How Important for your business growth is user growth? Right now, your company has reported 220 million users and said that the potential market is probably 500 million.
Idezawa: The increase in user numbers is very important to us. When you look at the growth rate in our four Asian countries it's actually 20 percent year-on-year. We think there's a healthy opportunity for more growth.
VB: How will you achieve faster growth?
Idezawa: Going back to my answer about the strong network effect, once an app achieves the top position in market share, user growth is achieved organically from there. For Japan, Taiwan and Thailand we're actually not allocating many resources to gaining more users. Because we're the top app in these three countries, our users just increase. But because we're not the top app in Indonesia yet and we're still number two, we're performing many activities to gain new users.
VB: You've said that Line platform has more than 7,000 chatbots, including those from 300 businesses. What's the role of these bots and AI in developing future services to propel more growth?
Idezawa: Let me give you an example, a delivery service in Japan uses AI in a chatbot to allow customers to book delivery dates for their parcels. I think we are almost in an era where chatbots allow business transactions to happen, and where customers can communicate with businesses, and behind that lies artificial intelligence processing all of it.
Right now Line users can hail a taxi, book an airline ticket and get food delivered as well as perform many different transactions inside the Line app. But not all this is automated by AI and some of the processes are still manual. We think that with further use of AI, efficiency will increase for our users.
VB: But some of these use cases are quite low on the machine learning scale and there's probably not a whole lot of AI involved. So, looking ahead to 2020, what are some of the potential areas where AI will change the experiences of Line users?
Idezawa: Users can access all the Line services through our Smart Portal. This makes Line a one-stop shop for many, many services. And we think that an intelligent agent that can comprehensively answer all the different needs of a user has potential. Agents, or bots, will be very important for searching and acting as a gateway for users to the services on Line.
And I don't think this is just for online. In the offline [world], there will be shops, actual shops where users will search and transact for services through chatbots.
VB: This sounds a little bit like ordering through Amazon Alexa or other voice activated assistants. Will Line work someday with a smart speaker, a voice–activated intelligent assistant?
Idezawa: I think this is a very important, emerging area. Once we come to a world where smartphones are no longer the dominant device, voice activation devices will be the next important thing.
VB: Are saying that Line would operate on a wide–variety of devices?
Idezawa: Yes, I think there is a very high chance of that. I think the form that the Line service can take will change. It could be a home device like an Echo, it could be a watch, or an earpiece or a miniature display.
VB: Given that Line has invested in two venture funds, what are some areas where Line is investing its own internal resources?
Idezawa: We're heavily investing in AI and chatbots. And in the four Asian countries where we're concentrating, we're considering more and more partnerships to increase the number of connection points for our service.
VB: Presumably some of these connection points have universal appeal. Does this, at some point, position Line for entrance or growth in other markets, namely a return to the U.S. and Europe?
Idezawa: Right now in the Americas and Western Europe, we think that the market is very differentiated between Messenger and other chat apps because of features. We think that this will evolve into a few platforms, and when that time comes then you'll see our strategy really start to take effect.
VB: Are you saying then that instead of users being having many chat apps that they use, users will instead be choosing perhaps one messaging platform from a small number of them?
VB: Thank you.
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 07:15 AM PST
It’s been hard to ignore bots and virtual assistants lately. Google is integrating its Google Assistant into its smartphones, home devices, and Allo messaging service. Amazon's smart-home Echo device is becoming an "unlikely hit" among American households, selling an estimated 3 million devices since its launch in 2014.
And, of course, every day sees a new article about a new bot service, smart messaging service, or digital virtual assistant.
In the coverage of bots and AI, however, everything seems to bleed together — AI, chatbots, personal assistants, voice control, and self-driving cars. Which is why I wanted to take a stab at creating a scale for bots, similar to the one the US Department of Tranportation defined for self-driving cars. That scale ranges from 0 (where humans are in complete control), to 5, where there isn't even a steering wheel in the vehicle.
The levels don't mean that car manufacturers should progress from Level 1 to 5 one step at a time. Some manufacturers aim for a completely autonomous “Level 5” car from the outset; others choose to arrive there incrementally by building on a smarter cruise control.
The same goes for bots. The levels are not meant as steps that developers need to take. Rather, they're different types of bots with different strengths and use cases.
Level 1: A bot that remembers
Level 1 bots recognize the user’s context and are able to pull up data that is relevant to that context.
Google Now suggests flights and hotels while you search without you asking for it. Waze offers you better routes to arrive at your destination. Your iPhone knows you’re in the car and tells you how long the drive home will take.
If that seems unspectacular, it’s because on a deeper level, the bot is a manifestation of technology that meets the human user on their terms instead of the other way around. It feels familiar, but don't be fooled: It is a genuine change in how we interact with interfaces and systems.
Interfaces have always relied on keyboards and later on glassy surfaces that needed to be tapped, pinched, swiped, or clicked. And if you need to submit information to a computer system, you have no choice but to follow the structure and the logic that the system imposes. First, fill in this form; then you can go to the next, until the computer decides that you've offered all the necessary information.
But humans are social animals. They don’t present their counterparts with a form to fill out. They talk to discover each other’s needs. Also, your friends don’t need to check your name every time you meet. They know your name.
Level 1 bots have this capability. They pull up the data that is relevant for your context. So after insurance bot Lemonade asks for your information in an initial intake, it doesn’t need to gather all this info when you’re filing a claim. It can just ask: “Were you driving your own car when you had the accident?” Yes. Enough said.
In that sense, interacting and doing business with a bot (what Chris Messina calls “conversational commerce”) is not a huge paradigm shift. It’s a shift back to the normal, human way of doing commerce.
The best Level 1 bots, then, are bots that ace repetitive tasks. They aren't smart enough to help you discover new things. But they are great at saving time on things you’ve done before and that rely on context. Your usual Thursday night pizza order (pepperoni), or the refill for your Nespresso machine, for example.
For brands, Level 1 bots offer great possibilities to create better experiences for consumers. Think of a bot that manages seamless, even imperceptible handovers between bots and human operators in customer support. Or a bot that collects post-purchase feedback from customers.
Level 2: A bot that learns
The next level is a bot that learns new things. It not only pulls up data when the context is right – it can actually "think" about data that it has access to and look for new, unexpected patterns, insights, and solutions.
A key benefit of bots over apps is the fact that you don’t need client-side software for a bot. That might seem arcane, but it’s not. Client-side software is a pain. It needs to be delivered to the client’s device and needs to be updated and maintained.
Over the past couple of decades, the trend in computing has consistently been to move from client-side software to cloud-based systems. First, you bought boxes with CDs to install. Next, you used cloud software and lightweight apps.
Bots are the culmination of that trend, about as lightweight as you can get in terms of interface. With a superlight interface, your development team can focus fully on the server side system. With bots and AI, this is where deverloper focus will need to be, as bots will become the bridge between users and huge databases of knowledge where powerful AI lives.
A good example here would be IBM’s Watson Health, a monster of a deep learning application continually “thinking” about its huge database of medical knowledge. Bots that access Watson might become extremely valuable sidekicks to medical practitioners.
Mondly is another example of a bot that knows stuff. It’s a bot that helps users improve their language skills, drawing on huge databases of language. Sensay is a bot that doesn’t know stuff, but it knows people (it's not what you know, but who you know, after all!). Say you want to make sure you fry a chicken to perfection. Sensay will connect you to expert cooks.
Level 3: A bot that understands you
Level 3 is where it gets really interesting, and only slightly scary.
All these bots have one major handicap: They might be incredibly useful, but how will you find them? Mostly, you have to rely on that same old, computer-like way of typing a search query on a keyboard, or by tapping, clicking, pinching and swiping a glassy interface. Otherwise, there’s no way to connect you to the bot — the human will always have to take the first step.
Unless there is a superbot that understands the most important person in the world: you.
That's a Level 3 bot. While Level 1 and 2 bots are experts on stuff in the outside world, the Level 3 bot is the expert on you. This is the reason Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are waging a war to become your preferred virtual assistant-slash-messenger app.
You’re talking to friends to set up a dinner. Your virtual assistant/messenger app summons Doodle to pick a date. Or you need to tell your bank that your phone number has changed. Your messenger app summons the bank bot to take note of the change.
This level will solve a few major pain points for users, like the need to find the correct app, download it, and delete it afterwards. We know from research that the majority of users only use 3 to 4 apps on a regular basis. Retention is low partly because some apps just don’t deserve to take up screen real estate on your device. You don’t regularly need an app to ask the KLM bot, “Will my flight be on time today?” It's perfectly normal that people delete these apps after their holidays.
It would be far better to have an app that knows exactly when it needs to plug the KLM app into the conversation and when to keep it out (no, I do not want to see your special offer for a Christmas flight to the Maldives).
Level 4: Bots that rule the world
You just know they will. And you will welcome your new robot overlords.
Frédéric Feytons is CTO at Tapptic. He joined Tapptic in 2010, where he was initially responsible for all mobile projects for French TV channel M6. In 2012 he cofounded Screenity, a business dedicated to the development of mobile SaaS solutions. Today he is interested in the industry's shifting focus on big data, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality – all of which make up an important part of Tapptic's R&D efforts. Follow him on Twitter: @ffeytons.
Posted: 12 Nov 2016 06:00 AM PST
As we gear up for what will surely be a combative presidential term, and as Twitter’s most toxic users succeed in poisoning the service, more pressure should be placed on the company to ensure that updated policies and tools are in place to protect users.
Now is the time for Twitter to prove it has what it takes to curb abuse.
Company chief executive Jack Dorsey has publicly come out against harassment on Twitter, saying in July that “abuse is not part of civil discourse. It shuts down conversation and prevents us from understanding one another. No one deserves to be a target of abuse online and it doesn’t have a place on Twitter.” His statement came amid outcry over public figures like Leslie Jones abandoning the service after being attacked by users without any satisfactory resolution. Ultimately, Twitter terminated the offending accounts and banned Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos.
With Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency comes a reinvigorated spirit among trolls and those harboring hate for women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, and anyone not conforming to their vision of what the U.S. should be. USA Today reported earlier this week that white supremacists are ganging up on supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging them to commit suicide. This is only one case in the sea of toxicity that has emerged in just the past couple of days.
Conversations will continue on Twitter, but the platform must provide not only defenses to its users, but for developers, who can filter out hurtful and demeaning tweets so that ideas and knowledge are shared. Dissenting opinions, debate, and dialogues of all sorts has its place on these platforms, but with constant abuse and harassment with little remedy can not only diminish usage but dissuade others from participating in conversations.
As more racism, sexism, harassment, and abuse comes out, it’s imperative that social media companies enact policies, create better tools, and empower third-party developers to protect users so a free-flowing exchange of information can occur. If Twitter wants to be a place for news and real-time conversation — the modern town square — it needs to do more to moderate its most vicious users.
In an SEC filing last month, Twitter promised it would implement “meaningful” safety updates in November, but has so far failed to provide specifics, instead punting the decision until after the election. As Twitter’s user-base stagnates and investors grow increasingly skeptical of its core business, what will Twitter do next? Under what will likely become a polarizing presidential term, it’s time for Twitter to put up or shut up.
On Wednesday, Dorsey tweeted that he believes “all people are created equal,” but what Twitter has shown signs of, at least publicly, is that trolls and abusers have more rights and protections than ordinary users — the users who still struggle to find a reason to use the service in the first place. The company may very well be working on things behind the scenes, but it's not doing a good enough job convincing its users and everyone else that it can stand up to bullies and offer the service most people want.
To be fair, Twitter offers users some ways to fight back. There’s a report feature that lets you notify Twitter of harassment, and the company’s quality filter setting is now available to everyone (previously it was only available to those with verified accounts).
And Twitter has engaged with groups such as Samaritans, GLAAD, and Women, Action, and the Media to better educate it on ways to protect its users. But what’s the next logical step to empower people to defend themselves?
With Facebook, people have to use their real names, but on Twitter you can be anyone. With Twitter scaling beyond just its traditional service to now include live video, how will well-baked safety mechanisms factor in? Twitter has to prove it is ready for this task — that it’s not about just making it easier to tweet, but also that it’s a reasonably safe place to do so.
Posted: 11 Nov 2016 09:45 PM PST
(Reuters) – More than 40 international business and technology organizations representing hundreds of companies on Friday expressed "deep concerns" to the Chinese government about a new cyber security law they said would likely increase the separation between China and the rest of the world economy.
Beijing on Monday adopted a cyber security law it called necessary to counter growing threats of hacking and terrorism.
The measure, to take effect in June 2017, was swiftly condemned by overseas critics, including business and human rights groups. They said it threatens to shut foreign technology companies out of various sectors deemed “critical”, and includes contentious requirements for security reviews and for data to be stored on servers in China.
Chinese officials have said it would not interfere with foreign business interests.
In their letter, the groups warned that Beijing’s efforts to control more of China’s Internet and technology would “effectively erect trade barriers along national boundaries” while failing to achieve its security objectives.
The cyber security law would also burden industry and undermine “the foundation of China's relations with its commercial partners," the groups wrote in a letter addressed to the Chinese Communist Party Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs.
The letter's signatories include the Information Technology Industry Council, the Internet Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Australian Industry Group and BusinessEurope, among others.
The law’s adoption comes amid a broad crackdown by President Xi Jinping on civil society, including rights lawyers and the media, which critics say is meant to quash dissent.
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, told Reuters he was "extremely troubled" by the new law.
The measure "could further infringe upon the privacy of its people and potentially have a widespread impact on the international business community," said Gardner, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity.
Gardner said he voiced concern with Chinese officials about the law during a recent visit to the country and would press the Obama administration to address Beijing's broader actions in cyberspace, "which threaten U.S. economic and national security.”
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by David Gregorio)
Posted: 11 Nov 2016 06:55 PM PST
Blackmoon's platform allows institutional investors to invest directly in loads issues by balance-sheet lenders. It currently works with lenders in the U.S., Russia, Finland, and several other countries around Europe. The new funds will be used to expand deeper into the U.S. – by applying for a broker/dealer license in 2017 – and continue the development of its platform.
This platform, which describes itself as a competitor to Lending Club, enables greater transparency, said CEO Oleg Seydak, who tips the global market to be in the hundreds of billions. Blackmoon's business model involves charging investors for access to loans that it says are not available on other services.
"[U]nlike other players, we're not trying to replace banks; we want to give them and other balance-sheet lenders a unique tool to improve efficiency and risk management," commented Seydak.
"The proposed solution can freely scale both geographically and through the product segments, providing new opportunities for lending institutions and owners of capital," added Mikhail Lobanov, partner at Target Global.
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Posted: 11 Nov 2016 05:01 PM PST
Money keeps flooding into the virtual reality ecosystem. Yesterday, the film company IMAX said it was partnering with Acer and Creative Artists Agency to fund at least 25 interactive VR experiences with a $50 million fund.
Over the next three years, IMAX could usher in more high-quality VR experiences, which is what the VR industry needs in order to live up to expectations. Tech advisor Digi-Capital estimates VR and AR could generate $120 billion in revenues in 2020.
“It makes sense for IMAX to be one of the guiding lights in the VR industry,” said Michael Yang, managing director at Comcast Ventures, in an email to GamesBeat. “With their heritage for delivering premium content experience to consumers and their know-how for how to scale location-based entertainment as a business, they can truly help propel VR forward. We hope to see them support the leading VR content creators in the emerging out-of-home VR market. And we look forward to working with them.”
It makes sense for IMAX, which makes surround-video entertainment in circular theaters, to move into VR. The money will be used for partnerships with video game publishers and 360-degree filmmakers. IMAX plans to build StarVR-based IMAX VR centers to draw fans to entertainment locations.
“It’s fantastic that a brand as well respected as Imax is committing energy and capital into a nascent space to ensure that high quality meaningful content exists to help spur adoption and create awareness,” said Gil Baron, CEO of Visionary VR, in an email.
The giant-screen exhibitor is working with Swedish entertainment developer Starbreeze on its VR content, using the Stockholm-based company’s headsets and games. VR content will eventually come from filmmakers using a camera that IMAX is developing with another partner, Google.
“VRcades have the opportunity of bringing back foot traffic to idle real estate in malls and theaters,” said Sunny Dhillon, a partner at Signia Venture Partners. “Shanda’s investment in The Void, Comcast’s investment in Spaces, arcade experiences from Capcom and Bandai Namco, and HTC’s recently announced Vive arcades are all examples of what’s to come.”
He added, “I think the technology to produce mixed reality and virtual reality arcade experiences will become commoditized in the long term. Staying power will come to those who can play the game of well-run maintenance and operational efficiency of physical location-based entertainment terminals, real estate and distribution access for scaling geographic footprint, and access to strong IP to keep folks coming back to try new experiences once the novelty of mixed reality (and the hardware) wears off. IMAX has strong relationships with IP holders and theater owners to help create compelling and scalable experiences, and $50 million seems a relatively significant commitment from a company that did $373m in revenue in 2015. I’m pretty bullish on what this means for location-based VR entertainment.”
The IMAX fund investors include CAA; Acer; China Media Capital; China’s Enlight Media; Studio City; and WPP, the ad services giant. IMAX plans to charge $7 to $10 for VR experiences that last maybe 10 minutes. Similar businesses are being set up for location-based VR in China, where Internet cafes see a new source of revenue in VR.
“Acer is excited to join forces with IMAX and other world-class investors to help foster top shelf content for the thriving VR industry,” said Jason Chen, CEO of Acer, in a statement. “With this strategic investment and our deep collaboration with partners including Starbreeze in the hardware and entertainment sector, we hope to enable engaging and immersive VR experiences in IMAX VR centers and beyond.”
Posted: 11 Nov 2016 04:37 PM PST
(Reuters) — Twitter said it was able to deliver more viewers than promised to advertisers on a U.S. election night livestream, good news for the microblogging site as it tries to ward off growing competition for ad dollars from Snapchat and Instagram.
Twitter partnered with BuzzFeed to host an election night broadcast on Tuesday and attracted major advertisers, including Paramount Pictures, Amazon.com Inc's "Man in the High Castle," Activision Blizzard Inc's "Call of Duty," Johnnie Walker and Izod.
San Francisco-based Twitter declined to say how much it charged brands to be included in the livestream, but said by email that it overdelivered between two to three times on its live ad impressions that were guaranteed.
Video from advertisers fetches higher rates than text and photo-based ads and is seen as key revenue source for Twitter. Snapchat has been building up its ad sales team ahead of next year’s IPO and Instagram will take a larger role in growing Facebook Inc’s ad revenue.
At least one of the advertisers, PVH Corp's Izod, is eager to work with Twitter more in the future.
Izod ran a 60-second video featuring presidential debate sensation Ken Bone in his trademark red Izod sweater.
"We're going to look long and hard about increasing our presence there," said Mike Kelly, executive vice president of the Marketing Group, PVH's in-house agency. "We walked away a bit changed in our point of view."
Twitter handled the ad sales, and split half the revenue with BuzzFeed, according to a source familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The BuzzFeed broadcast began around 6 p.m. (2300 GMT) and ended sometime after midnight (0500 GMT), and was watched by a total of 6.8 million unique viewers. The average minute audience, the best metric to use when comparing to a TV audience, was 165,000 viewers globally. By comparison, Fox News drew an average minute audience of 12.2 million.
The overperformance for advertisers came at a much-needed time for Twitter, which has staked its future on video. The company has made a point of getting advertisers to move toward video buys as a way of stemming its declining ad revenue growth.
On Wednesday, Chief Operating Officer Adam Bain, a key figure in building Twitter’s ad business, announced he was leaving the company in what was seen as a big blow. Chief Financial Officer Anthony Noto, who attended BuzzFeed’s election night broadcast in New York, will replace Bain while still holding his current title until the company finds a new CFO.
Hosting BuzzFeed's stream was seen as a bit of an upset for Twitter, as most had expected BuzzFeed to work with Facebook instead. Unlike Facebook Live, Twitter's video strategy more closely mimics what viewers see on television.
The company has signed deals with numerous U.S. professional and college sports leagues, most notably with the National Football League, in an effort to both increase its stalled user base and court larger advertisers that have traditionally worked with television, but are looking to reach consumers who are not subscribed to a cable TV package.
Shares of Twitter closed up nearly 1 percent at $18.55 on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Tim Baysinger in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)
Posted: 11 Nov 2016 04:30 PM PST
Nintendo won’t release the anticipated Switch console until next year, but it may still end up with the hottest new hardware this holiday season afterall.
The NES Classic Edition, a miniaturized version of the classic 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System that comes with 30 built-in games, launched today at retailers around the United States. You can buy one for $60, which would save you a lot of money over attempting to buy the system and the cartridges off the second-hand market. But the problem is that the Classic is selling out as fast its going up for purchase. The device has hit Target, Best Buy, Amazon, and more — and at this point it is nearly impossible to find … unless you want to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get one on eBay.
It’s unlikely that this drought will last long. Nintendo likely had a smaller launch shipment to ensure a taut supply line (to save cash on warehouse costs) and to create buzz by convincing reporters like myself that this is something worth writing about. But the publisher has also confirmed that it’ll have more systems hitting retailers through the next few weeks and into the holidays.
“The Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition system is a hot item, and we are working hard to keep up with consumer demand,” reads a Nintendo of America tweet. “There will be a steady flow of additional system through the holiday-shopping season and into the New Year.”
If you want to see if a store near you still has one, you should check this site to see a list of participating retailers. Then get on the horn and start calling around.
In the meantime, I’m gonna get my nerf gun and sit on my porch and wait until Best Buy delivers the one I ordered at 1 a.m. this morning. That’s my retro nostalgia, and you better keep your filthy fingers away from it!
Posted: 11 Nov 2016 03:30 PM PST
GungHo Online Entertainment America said today that its mobile game Puzzle & Dragons has surpassed 11 million downloads in North America since its release in 2012.
The title is also a big hit in Japan and the rest of the world, and it is now celebrating its fourth anniversary in North America. In honor of that, from now until November 13, fans will be able to enjoy special collectibles, bonuses and other rewards in-game.
“GungHo Online Entertainment is proud of the massive success Puzzle & Dragons has achieved over the last four years, thanks to our dedicated fans,” said Jun Iwasaki, president and CEO, GungHo Online Entertainment America, in a statement. “We are fully committed to continue providing our players around the world innovative gameplay through new partnerships and engaging content for many more years to come.”
Puzzle & Dragons features an addictive combination of puzzle, dungeon-crawling, and monster-collecting gameplay. In the game, players capture, collect, and evolve thousands of elemental monsters while using quick thinking to chain combos and maximize the abilities and skills of their monsters. It is available on the iOS App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore.
Sensor Tower estimates that Puzzle & Dragons revenues has exceeded $1 billion since 2012 worldwide.
Posted: 11 Nov 2016 02:10 PM PST
It seems like every television season plays host to a single show that takes over our cultural consciousness by coating modern fears in fantastical drama.
Game of Thrones taps into the cutthroat nature of modern politics, while The Walking Dead plays into our ever-present fear of a worldwide contagion. This year, with Elon Musk’s dire warnings about the dangers of artificial intelligence, Siri and Alexa permeating our personal lives, and self-driving cars threatening to run down groups of children, Westworld is posed to be that show.
Westworld is complex. It’s that complexity, interwoven with mysteries and plot twists, that produces the hours of online speculation and wild fan theories that are the hallmark of anything worth watching.
Yet, because Westworld‘s brand of complexity is intrinsically rooted in technology, some of the more technically inclined fans have a sizable leg up on other fans when it comes to understanding this futuristic fairy tale. So we’re going to break it down for the non-techie cohort. What are the inventions of the show, how do they work, and how close are we to achieving them today?
The premise of Westworld is deceptively simple: a Wild West theme park allows Guests to take on roles and engage in storylines with Hosts, or androids (a word for a robot that seems human). The Hosts can improvise based on what the Guests do, and over the course of the show they begin to achieve self-awareness. It may seem impossible that such a thing could happen in 2016. And while that’s true, some of these innovations are closer than you might think.
1. 3D printing
In the gorgeous opening credits of the show, with musical stylings provided by none other than Games of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi, we see the process of one of the android bodies being created. A three-dimensional humanoid shape emerges from a strange white bath. We see the iris of an eye being carefully, laboriously printed one strand at a time by a robotic arm not unlike the ones you find toiling away inside a modern automotive assembly line; bones, muscles and tendons are slowly layered into being. We all know that 3D printing is possible, but could we actually create a human body this way?
The inspiration for the 3D printing technique used in Westworld comes from a well-established technology called stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing. According to Wikipedia, SLA is an additive manufacturing process that works by focusing an ultraviolet (UV) laser onto a vat of photopolymer resin (the white liquid seen dripping from the androids during assembly). For this to work in the way the show wants it to, both the speed and accuracy of the method would have to increase dramatically. Without the addition of nanotechnology (the ability to assemble structures atom by atom), it’s doubtful we could create complex enough structures to mimic the human body. Furthermore, rather than a single ubiquitous material, one assumes that an electrically conductive substance would need to be embedded (the “nerves”) in order to actually signal the synthetic muscles (don’t worry, they’re working on that).
There are also people printing 3D organs, but there’s no indication (yet) that the Hosts actually have organs. They have blood (as evidenced by all of the times they’ve been shot, plus that horrifying head smashing), but chances are they’re made of a flesh substitute. A more realistic powersource would be a small, ultra energy dense battery, similar to what a company called Ampirus is working on now.
Our Take: Plausible, mid-far future
2. Robots that seem human
The Hosts move so humanly that the opening scenes of the show rely on tricking the audience into believing that Teddy is one of the human Guests; the reveal partway through the episode that he is in fact one of the androids resounds especially with fans of the original movie.
This is one of the areas from which we are currently the most removed. While we can create androids that look incredibly real, they are given away instantly by their movements. Judging by the latest robotic competitions and what has come out of Boston Dynamics, the machinery needed to actually walk is still very far from what we seen on the show. However, the current bottleneck is computational power, which grows exponentially each year.
Our Take: Plausible, mid future
3. Intelligent machines
As a slight departure from the original work, show creator Jonathan Nolan draws our attention to the nuances of human-AI interaction rather than mechanical malfunctions. If you’ve talked to any chatbots on Facebook Messenger lately, or had a conversation with Tay on Twitter, you know that we’re still a ways off from any kind of true general intelligence. But the thing about the androids of Westworld is that, at least at the beginning, they’re not truly intelligent — they’re just programmed so thoroughly that upon a first meeting, the average person can’t tell the difference.
However, Hosts are still far more advanced than a simple scripted chat interface — they’re capable of improvisation, and the way they’re left to “practice” with each other suggests a form of machine learning. In fact, the need to “reset” the Hosts, erasing past memories, implies they learn very well, and could otherwise escape their pre-programmed narrative loops. The Shakespearean phrase we see in Episode 2 seems to be a trigger that gives the Hosts the ability to access their prior databanks, which are seemingly “erased,” but actually still present. This is also how a hard drive on your computer works — when you delete data it isn’t actually removed, it’s simply treated as empty space to the operating system, and only erased if new data overwrites it.
By current standards, we are still a long way from a true general AI, but we can break down the Hosts’ abilities into a set of practical (and potentially solvable) problems. We know from the show the Hosts respond to voice activation commands as well as physical interfaces, such as tablets and computers. So at minimum we need: advanced speech, object, and facial recognition and comprehension; a semblance of world knowledge; and an improvisation and reasoning engine tying it together.
You may be surprised to know that we have already achieved better-than-human speech recognition. Interestingly, because humans only achieve 80 to 85 percent accuracy, improving this technology would actually make them seem less real!
Our Take: Already here
4. Image recognition
Anyone with an internet connection will know that Google, Facebook, and Apple have made huge advancements in image recognition — just look at Google Photos’ ability to automatically group your photos by person, even as they age. Hosts need to detect objects as well, and interestingly advancements in this area might come from self-driving cars. It turns out that Tesla’s AI is able to leverage the fact that the car is moving by looking at the way the object changes given that movement being mobile; the Hosts will have the same advantage.
Our Take: Definite, nearly here
5. Infinite knowledge
World knowledge is required in order to have real comprehension. It isn’t enough to be able to say: This is a picture of an apple, and this is a picture of an orange. You need to know that we eat oranges for breakfast, that apples are symbolic of original sin, and that no one puts either into a garden salad.
Researchers at IBM have made this kind of knowledge their mission, and IBM Watson is the result of years of research on the subject. You’re probably familiar with Watson from when it won a game of Jeopardy against human players. Currently that database of knowledge needs to be programmed, but with enough time, we’ll start to see androids that can access and understand a nearly infinite pool of knowledge.
Our Take: Definite, nearly here
There is a wide rift between accessing programmed responses and being able to improvise. Programmed responses are simple — we can create an android today that could put on a play with another android, using pre-programmed scripts. What is much harder is giving them the ability to improvise.
Current chatbots give the illusion of improvising by selecting answers based on a list of things you might say, a “choose your own adventure”-style story. However, we have given computers the ability to improvise, to a certain degree. When AlphaGo (Google’s deep learning experiment) beat a human master of the game Go, it would have been impossible to program it with every possible move (there are more potential moves in Go than stars in the universe). Instead, researchers used a deep neural net approach to let AlphaGo teach itself how to play, by studying hundreds of thousands of other games.
The downside to this approach is that researchers have no knowledge or control of how the machine is making those improvisational leaps. Sounds kind of like Westworld, doesn’t it?
So if we’ve achieved speech parity, and image recognition is on point, and neural nets allow us to teach machines to improvise … why don’t androids exist today?
The hangup is that the computing power (and data) needed to create such a network is immense. We have to assume that in Westworld‘s future, they’ve had a massive breakthrough, perhaps via quantum computing or a massive worldwide collaborative computing effort (similar to Worldwide LHC Computing Grid, which is expected to compute 50 petabytes of data). So our take on this one assumes that sometime, computing power is no longer the bottleneck it is today.
Our Take: Plausible, near-mid future
While the show focus on the androids and adventures of the Westworld theme park, the world extends far beyond those borders, and technology has continued to advance in all areas of life. Here are some minor technologies we glimpse throughout the show.
In a world based in technology, one of the first questions we have to ask is: What do computers look like? In a short time computers have evolved from giant machines that span entire rooms to tiny supercomputers we carry around in our pockets (smartphones).
In Westworld, we see computers both large and small, indicating that they’re still constrained by size the way we are today — we can make incredibly minute computers, but the larger they are, the better their computing power. So, big computer banks span Westworld’s Control Room, while smaller tablets are used to interface with the androids during maintenance sessions.
The coolest part of the tablets is that they fold up to be placed in your pocket. Technology like that might seem farfetched, but in actual fact, Lenovo has just announced a foldable phone that will double as a tablet. Its scheduled release date? 2017.
Our Take: Already here, essentially
The park takes up a massive amount of real-world land, and part of providing countless new entertainments for Guests is constant change. That means not only new Hosts and new storylines to participate in, but entirely new lands to explore.
In the fourth episode we see an Ultra-Digger churning up the land, breaking down a restaurant that’s been there for forty years to make way for a new storyline and landscape. Fortunately or unfortunately, this technology is very real, and is in use today in coal mines around the world.
Our Take: Already here
The mystery continues
Westworld toys with a recurring theme: “Imagining something is there when it is, in fact, not,” as Bernard scoffingly tells Elsie after an android carves what looks like Orion’s belt into a series of statues, humans are “pattern-seeking, story-telling animals.”
We personify everything around us. Throughout history our species has imagined sentience in animals, plants, even weather patterns. Intellectuals, especially scientists, are trained to fight that instinct, and it seems to be that very battle that makes Guests and creators alike blind to the emerging intelligence of the Hosts they have created.
Only time will tell if the androids of Westworld are truly intelligent or just reflecting back at us. But as we have seen, the future Westworld presents is all too possible. The lesson to be taken from this is clear: We should prepare for this future’s swift and inevitable arrival. We can start by thinking hard about the nature of intelligence, artificial or otherwise, and perhaps even put ourselves in the Hosts’ shoes.
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