Friday roundup: A week in tech

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The Chinese have deployed yet another piece of surveillance technology that is either A) very creepy, or B) terrifying, depending on your point of view.

Chinese cops are now equipped with sunglasses that house facial recognition features, to help identify ‘criminals’.

According to the famously impartial and balanced Chinese state media, the technology has already led to the capture of seven ‘criminals’.

This BBC story reckons there are fears that China’s government may use the face-spotting specs to further suppress ‘dissidents’. In other news, it has been revealed that the Pope has Catholic leanings.

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Is the game up for the internet’s latest utterly shameful horror show, a mere five minutes after the furore started?

Gigantic web gibberish bin Reddit has moved to ban so-called ‘deepfake’ videos from its nebulous network, after that bastion of morality and enlightenment Twitter invoked the same edict.

Deepfake videos see the faces of famous people, mostly women, digitally plastered onto the heads of actors in other films, mostly pornographic ones, for the amusement and/or satisfaction of others, mostly pitiful men.

Is this an indication that the internet can move as one, fight back and strike a blow for basic common decency if it really puts its mind to it? Maybe! Let’s be optimistic, for a change.

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Lots of things are going to happen for the first time this May: a member of the royal family is going to marry an American (this isn’t actually even slightly accurate); I’m going to be [redacted] years old for the first time; and Socitm’s first ever President’s Conference is going to take place!

The two-day event, nestled in the glorious city of Glasgow, is going to be packed with THE workshops, panel discussions, training sessions, coaching classes, insights, debates, lightning talks and general network-mingling that YOU need in your ICT life.

PLUS there’s the President’s Dinner to look forward to – an evening of top food, luscious drinks and dazzling entertainment. I’ll be there, too, but please don’t let that put you off.

Do you really want to miss THE EVENT of the digital calendar? I thought not.

Click here to read more and book your place now.

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Do you live in the country? Do you balance the peace and serenity of your verdant surroundings with the hellish daily experience of trying to do things on the internet? Well, here’s another proposed solution (number 546).

EE has announced plans to retail a 4G aerial which it claims will deliver nice, fast broadband to those who spend their days crying and thumping their table tops as the iPlayer takes 14 hours to run an episode of Silent Witness.

It’ll cost you £100 and will deliver speeds of up to 100Mbps – surely only IF you’ve got good 4G coverage in your area.

Tim Till, a man who apparently works for EE but I don’t know in what capacity, said: ‘If your home has access to fixed broadband, then that would probably be the right choice, but if you can’t then this is an option. We’re in the business of providing connectivity to those that don’t have it.’

If you live in the country, which do you find more aggravating: slow internet speeds OR constant proposed solutions to said slow speeds that ultimately come to nothing?

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Southend robot clocks on at residential care home

By SA Mathieson, editor of Socitm In Our View magazine

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has used a humanoid robot showing clips of George Formby and the Queen’s coronation to help older people reminisce about their lives.

In December the council used the robot, known as Pepper, in a reminiscence therapy session at Southend Care’s Priory House residential care home. Pepper showed videos on its built-in screen and staff asked questions about when residents first saw the clips and how they made them feel.

Residents also sang along to audio played by Pepper, which the council believes is the first robot used by a UK local authority.

Paul Mavin, group manager business support at the council, says that he was “a bit taken aback” by how easily the seven or eight residents accepted the robot. “We were half expecting a little bit of fear or trepidation from some of the residents, but they really took to Pepper straight away,” he says.

Southend is planning more such sessions, but with an expanded role for Pepper. “We were asking questions, they were directing their answers to Pepper,” says Phil Webster, manager of Southend’s equipment service. “At the end of the session, they said ‘goodbye Pepper, thank you Pepper’.” The robot will be programmed to ask initial questions in future sessions, which will also use shorter audio clips to match the length of time residents like to sing for, as well as larger images.

Sharon Houlden, Southend’s director of adult social care, says the council bought Pepper to move social care innovation beyond assistive technology such as flashing light doorbells. “As part of our social care transformation programme we wanted to do something that genuinely was very different to anything else we saw out there,” she says.

Photo: Southend-on-Sea Borough Council

Pepper’s Twitter account: http://www.twitter.com/peppersouthend

Read a longer version of this article in the new issue of Socitm’s In Our View magazine, now available to everyone.

Southend robot clocks on at residential care home

Friday roundup: A week in tech

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Our digital minister has, rather fittingly, launched an app, which I’ve dutifully downloaded so I can tell you all about it.

Matthew Hancock MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (they like to keep him busy), launched the software for IOS and Android to ‘promote healthy, open and constructive discourse on the issues that matter to you,’ and is ‘intended to engage, update and inform West Suffolk constituents’.

But users are also warned that ‘offensive conduct will not be tolerated, and offenders may be removed’. Oh dear, the jokers have ignored that, as anybody living could have told you they would, and the thing is already deep in flood with frenzied wackiness.

According to the Guardian, the majority ‘of the users are political journalists, people trolling Matt Hancock, or both,’ which sounds like a perfect storm of utter tedium.

More interestingly and alarmingly are the concerns raised by privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, whose director has described the Hancock app as a ‘fascinating comedy of errors’.

The superbly named Silkie Carlo said: ‘It is quite fitting, given this government’s incompetence on digital privacy issues, that our digital minister’s app steals a bank of users’ personal photographs, even when permission to access them is denied.’ Opps!

…actually, I’d better uninstall it sharpish.

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Apple didn’t sell as many phones last year, but before you fret and weep on behalf of the company you should know that profits rose anyway. Phew.

In fact, Apple made record quarterly profits of £14 billion – driven by sales of its very expensive iPhone X in Europe and Japan.

Actually, it’s year-on-year handset sales only dropped by 1% to 77.3 million, and as the iPhone X starts around £1,000 and has been the best-selling Apple device since its launch in November it’s not really surprising that they’re rolling in yet more money.

But are things about to turn to dust? The firm has forecast weaker sales in the coming months, so maybe the great Apple is about to tumble. Seems unlikely, but let’s wait and see.

Incidentally, Apple are currently in a three-way race with Amazon and Google to become the world’s first trillion dollar company – a contest which I’m sure you find as gripping as I do.

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The resurgent Nintendo has reported that its latest games console has outsold its predecessor in under a year.

The Nintendo Switch has sold 14.86 units in 10 months since its launch; Nintendo’s previous system, the Wii U, sold a mere 13.56 million in five years.

Consequently, the firm has announced its greatest quarterly profits since 2009.

And I can vouch for all this: the Switch is the first console I’ve bought in years and it is superb.

However, apparently intent on ruining things, Nintendo has announced plans to make a film based on its popular character Mario, a truly rubbish idea not least because they did that once before and it was, predictably, truly rubbish.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Deletion of ‘deepfake’ porn films begins (no doubt fruitlessly)

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Have you heard about the internet’s latest squalid, debasing, grotesque and vile pastime? Well, here we go – let’s be depressed together.

‘Deepfake’ films employ simple tech to allow even the ineptest and dim of users to trace people’s faces onto actors in pre-existing video – with the commonest output of this ‘art’ the hoisting of the visages of famous female actresses, singers and so on onto the heads of porn stars. Naturally.

Now a firm that hosts the degrading clips has begun deleting them, after claiming that they are ‘objectionable’.

Tat hosting site Gfycat simpered: ‘Our terms of service allow us to remove content that we find objectionable. We are actively removing this content.’

Fakeapp, the software that powers the sordid enterprise, has been downloaded over 100,000 times, presumably primarily by weak, inadequate men, for whom lust, aesthetics and revenge are all the same sort of thing.

The actress Emma Watson and the singer Ariana Grande are two of those lucky enough to have been virtually planted into pornographic films without their consent, for the gratification of literally thousands of…I suppose you could call them ‘men’, at a push.

Of course, it’s very hard if not totally impossible to completely remove a video from the internet, so this abysmal stuff will be out there forever.

The internet’s proud, mad, baffling war on women continues!

Deletion of ‘deepfake’ porn films begins (no doubt fruitlessly)

Theo Blackwell: London can be world’s data capital

By SA Mathieson, editor of Socitm In Our View magazine

London’s first city-wide chief digital officer has invited public-sector IT professionals to get involved in making it the “data capital of the world”.

Theo Blackwell, who moved to the Greater London Authority last autumn, has started a listening exercise to gather new ideas. “A component of it is to get the people on the ground, the experienced professionals delivering services, to give us their views on what measures we should take to enable London to become smarter, whether it’s about connectivity, collaboration or our approach to data,” he says.

“They are totally invaluable in shaping our vision, as they are the enablers,” Blackwell adds of the capital’s public sector IT staff. “We really want them to play a full role, whether through a CIO forum or contacting us with individual submissions, because it’s a real moment for the profession to express their ambitions here.”

He says that London’s approach to digital devolution, which could work in other city regions gaining powers over local public services, will include the capital’s 33 councils but also local NHS, transport, police and fire organisations.

The exercise, which will also include companies and other organisations working in technology, will feed into the production of a new Smart London plan, to be launched during London Tech Week in June. “It’s about how we make London the data capital of the world,” Blackwell says, using innovation to deliver benefits such as jobs or new digital services.

“London so far has been a collection of things that are good, but together we can do more than that – we can be greater than the sum of our parts,” Blackwell adds.

Theo Blackwell and Socitm president Geoff Connell will be giving the closing keynote at ShareDigital’18 on 8 March at Church House in Westminster. Information and registration: www.sharedigital.net

Read a longer version of this article in the new issue of Socitm’s In Our View magazine, now available to everyone.

Theo Blackwell: London can be world’s data capital