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Technology | The Guardian

Latest Technology news, comment and analysis from the Guardian, the world's leading liberal voice

Published: Tue, 16 Jan 2018 19:23:28 GMT2018-01-16T19:23:28Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2018

Bitcoin and Ethereum tumble after renewed fears of regulatory crackdown

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 13:56:06 GMT2018-01-16T13:56:06Z

Bitcoin hits a four-week low before rebounding on Tuesday as South Korean statements send cryptocurrency markets yo-yoing

The price of bitcoin was sent plummeting 18% as it and other cryptocurrencies yo-yo in value over fears of a wider trading crackdown spurred by renewed potential of South Korean regulatory action.

Bitcoin’s slide of over over $2,200 triggered a massive selloff across the broader cryptocurrency market, with biggest rival Ethereum down 23% on the day, according to trade website Coinmarketcap, and the next biggest, Ripple, plunging 33%.

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Echo Spot: 'smart clock' launched as Amazon seeks to lock rivals out of home

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 09:00:20 GMT2018-01-16T09:00:20Z

Firm hopes to extend its market dominance further as Alexa-powered, 2.5in-screened smart speaker comes to UK

Amazon is launching its small clock-like Echo Spot in the UK, as it continues to cement its market dominance.

The Echo Spot is small sphere with a 2.5in circular screen, camera and clock face that’s capable of showing the time as well as other at-a-glance information, similar to the larger Echo Show that launched earlier in the year.

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Zooglers: why staff are paid to play in Google’s Zurich office

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 15:51:56 GMT2018-01-15T15:51:56Z

Not only do they have tennis, pinball, a cinema, a gym and a Lego room at their disposal – employees in the Swiss city’s office also have their own nickname

Name: Zooglers.

Origin: 75 different countries.

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Can an app that rewards you for avoiding Facebook help beat smartphone addiction?

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 12:00:02 GMT2018-01-15T12:00:02Z

The Hold app – already used by 40% of students in Norway – allows users to earn rewards such as cinema tickets for not using their phone. We put it to the test

It’s March 2012, the middle of exam term and my friend is in despair. Why? She can’t access her Facebook.

Nordic app Hold is hoping to combat such examples of student smartphone addiction. It rewards users for not looking at their phones on campus – a task so difficult for my zombified-friend that she resorted to using a website that locks her out of all social media accounts.

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So you're thinking about investing in bitcoin? Don't

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 10:00:00 GMT2018-01-15T10:00:00Z

A collective insanity has sprouted around the new field of ‘cryptocurrencies’, causing an irrational gold rush. I know you’re tempted, but don’t be a fool

I’ve been watching this bitcoin situation for a few years, assuming it would just blow over.

But a collective insanity has sprouted around the new field of “cryptocurrencies”, causing an irrational gold rush worldwide. It has gotten to the point where a large number of financial stories – and questions in my inbox – ask whether or not to “invest” in BitCoin.

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Hawaii missile false alarm due to badly designed user interface, reports say

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 09:51:25 GMT2018-01-15T09:51:25Z

Alert occurred after employer pressed button labelled ‘missile alert’, instead of the one next to it marked ‘test missile alert’

A false alarm warning Hawaiians of an incoming ballistic missile on Saturday, was reportedly issued because of a “terribly designed” user interface.

The computer system that allows the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) to send emergency alerts asks employees to select the type of alert that they are sending from a drop-down menu.

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Seat Ibiza review: ‘Plenty of attacking flair’ | Martin Love

Sun, 14 Jan 2018 06:00:19 GMT2018-01-14T06:00:19Z

The latest version of Spain’s best-selling car has raised its game – and it’s now ready to tackle the big players

Price: from £13,410
Top speed: 104mph
0-62mph: 14.7 seconds
MPG: 57.6
CO2: 112g/km

Even if you aren’t a football fan, you’ve probably heard that FC Barcelona have lifted the beautiful game to dizzying new heights with their focus on speed, accuracy and ball skills. Now a similar transformation is sweeping over the city’s car industry. For decades, Seat was the go-to guy for steady yet uninspiring cars. If Barça were winning championships, Seat was battling to stay out of the relegation zone – but new signings, such as the Ateca and the Arona, are giving Seat plenty of attacking flair.

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Will AT&T’s call to drop Huawei end phone maker’s US hopes?

Sat, 13 Jan 2018 16:00:02 GMT2018-01-13T16:00:02Z

Loss of the deal with the giant mobile carrier has put a huge obstacle in the way of the Chinese firm’s ambition of conquering the American market

Amid the glitz and glamour of the CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas last week, one piece of news struck a particularly sour note for Chinese phone-maker Huawei. Despite months of preparation, the giant US mobile carrier AT&T announced last Monday that it was pulling out of a deal to sell Huawei’s smartphones.

The decision was taken as a result of political pressure on AT&T by American politicians, who had written to the telecoms regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – which must approve the sale of phones and other devices in the US – saying they had “long been concerned about Chinese espionage in general, and Huawei’s role in that espionage in particular”. Richard Yu, chief executive of Huawei’s consumer division, was obliged to go through the motions at CES of introducing his new Mate 10 phone, having seen planned marketing spending of $100m and assurances of no government interference turn to ashes.

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I was Mark Zuckerberg's mentor. Today I would tell him: your users are in peril

Sat, 13 Jan 2018 09:00:01 GMT2018-01-13T09:00:01Z

Facebook is a big part of my portfolio, and I fear the dangers of tech addiction. While investors’ recent open letter to Apple is significant, more need to speak up

I am a tech investor, and Facebook is by far my largest investment. Still, for the past 15 months I have been pushing Facebook to sacrifice near term profits. The reason? I want them to address the harm the platform has caused through addiction and exploitation by bad actors. Government watchdogs barely regulate the technology sector in the United States, so investors like myself have a big role to play.

I was once Mark Zuckerberg’s mentor, but I have not been able to speak to him about this. Unfortunately, all the internet platforms are deflecting criticism and leaving their users in peril. Zuckerberg’s announcement on Wednesday that he would be changing the Facebook News Feed to make it promote “meaningful interactions” does little to address the concerns I have with the platform.

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How to quit your tech: a beginner's guide to divorcing your phone

Sat, 13 Jan 2018 08:00:00 GMT2018-01-13T08:00:00Z

Stuck on your screen? We asked six very busy people to attempt a digital detox – here’s how you can, too

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Read the news? Check your emails? Scroll through social media? Now, imagine your phone’s not in the room. If that makes you feel aimless or uncomfortable, it may be time for a digital detox.

This doesn’t have to be about giving up the digital world altogether, says Tanya Goodin, founder of digital detox specialists Time To Log Off and author of Off. “It’s about becoming aware of your own personal challenges around screens, gaining an understanding of what will help you overcome them, and learning to live with technology in a way that’s healthy. People are always amazed by how different they feel after not being on their phones and that motivates them to want to keep going.”

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Cyber-attack risk on nuclear weapons systems 'relatively high' – thinktank

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 00:01:06 GMT2018-01-11T00:01:06Z

Lack of skilled staff, slowness of institutional change exposes UK and US capabilities, warns Chatham House

US, British and other nuclear weapons systems are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks, according to a new study by the international relations thinktank Chatham House.

The threat has received scant attention so far from those involved in nuclear military planning and the procurement of weapons, the report said.

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Russian bid to influence Brexit vote detailed in new US Senate report

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 15:15:14 GMT2018-01-10T15:15:14Z

UK political system vulnerable to anti-democratic meddling via social media and ‘possibly illicit’ campaign funding, report says

Russia’s attempts to influence British democracy and the potential vulnerability of parts of the UK political system to anti-democratic meddling during the EU referendum have been detailed in a report prepared by the US Senate.

The report by Democrats on the Senate foreign relations committee, titled Putin’s asymmetric assault on democracy in Russia and Europe: implications for US national security, pinpoints the way in which UK campaign finance laws do not require disclosure of political donations if they are from “the beneficial owners of non-British companies that are incorporated in the EU and carry out business in the UK”.

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Hacked and hacked off: without change this new data law will fail victims | Alex Neill

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 13:00:19 GMT2018-01-09T13:00:19Z

The data protection bill must be amended so independent organisations acting in the public interest can help consumers to get proper redress

• Alex Neill is managing director of home products and services at Which?

Your name, your email address, your home address, your bank details, your credit or debit card details. You probably cannot count the number of times that you have been asked to share these important pieces of personal data with a company or organisation in the past weeks or months. As more and more of us report sharing an ever increasing volume of our personal information online, is enough being done to keep it safe?

The more information we share, the greater the risk there is of us falling victim to a data breach. While in some cases you may just need to update all your passwords, the loss of more important, personal data could have serious consequences, including leaving you at greater risk of being subject to fraud. Over the past year, we have seen reports of high-profile hacks of numerous organisations – Yahoo, Uber and Equifax to name just three.

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Apple says Meltdown and Spectre flaws affect all Mac and iOS devices

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 07:51:57 GMT2018-01-05T07:51:57Z

Updates to protect against Meltdown flaw available for supported iPhone, iPad, Mac computers and Apple TV devices, with more protections being developed

Apple’s iPhones, iPads and Mac computers are all vulnerable to the major processor flaws revealed on Wednesday, the company has warned, but it says updates are already available.

The flaws known as Meltdown and Spectre affect almost every modern computing device from all manufacturers using chip designs from Intel, AMD and ARM. Apple uses Intel processors in its Mac computers and ARM-based designs for its A-series processors used in the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Apple Watch lines.

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The Guardian view on hardware bugs: more security, less speed | Editorial

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 19:20:48 GMT2018-01-04T19:20:48Z

A hacking takedown of computer systems that capture and organise our lives is made possible because we applauded technology’s potential without adequately assessing the pitfalls

The discovery of hardware bugs in almost every computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone is evidence of the imperfect foresight human actions are apt to have. The flaws – nicknamed Meltdown and Spectre – are so fundamental that they could allow hackers to steal computers’ most secure secrets. In seeking to speed up microprocessors and diffuse them into every part of modern life, chipmakers wanted to exploit the potential of technology but paid too little heed to the pitfalls.

The problems are rooted in the trade-off between speed and security. Computing capacity has doubled every 18 months, in line with Moore’s law. This has allowed the digitisation of everything: every second today 2.6m emails are sent, 64,533 Google searches made and 7,885 opinions tweeted. Processors were optimised for performance, without basic questions being asked about whether their design was secure. It turns out they are not. One error can be “patched” – but will slow down machines by up to 30%, which makes a mockery of the need for speed. The other is so foundational that a complete re-imagining of processors will be needed. In the meantime we have to live with the risk of a hacking takedown of computer systems we let capture, organise and optimise our lives.

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Spectre and Meltdown processor security flaws – explained

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 14:20:09 GMT2018-01-04T14:20:09Z

What are Meltdown and Spectre? Do they only affect Intel chips? Will the fixes slow my computer … and what even is a processor?

Meltdown and Spectre are the names of two serious security flaws that have been found within computer processors. They could allow hackers to steal sensitive data without users knowing, one of them affecting chips made as far back as 1995.

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WannaCry, Petya, NotPetya: how ransomware hit the big time in 2017

Sat, 30 Dec 2017 08:00:07 GMT2017-12-30T08:00:07Z

Most first encountered ransomware after an outbreak shut down hospital computers and diverted ambulances this year. Is it here to stay?

For thousands of people, the first time they heard of “ransomware” was as they were turned away from hospitals in May 2017.

The WannaCry outbreak had shut down computers in more than 80 NHS organisations in England alone, resulting in almost 20,000 cancelled appointments, 600 GP surgeries having to return to pen and paper, and five hospitals simply diverting ambulances, unable to handle any more emergency cases.

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The Guardian view on quantum computing: the new space race | Editorial

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 18:28:49 GMT2017-12-29T18:28:49Z

The main use of quantum technology might not be to hack existing systems but to create unhackable communication networks of the future

The Washington Post’s columnist David Ignatius moonlights as a pacey novelist. His latest book, The Quantum Spy, is a thriller that touches upon the space race of our times: the great power contest to develop a quantum computer, able to work so fast that it can crack today’s uncrackable codes. Such a machine would be revolutionary. Modern e-commerce depends on encryption to protect confidential information. It is used to authenticate our identities and ensure the integrity of the data. To be able to break such codes would expose us all. Ignatius’s fiction is grounded in fact: the US National Institute of Standards and Technology thinks that within 15 years the first quantum computer will emerge to defeat the most prevalent forms of encryption.

However, cryptography remains a game of cat and mouse between codemakers and codebreakers. As fast as one group creates codes, another tries to break them. Unbreakable ciphers sometimes fall short. “Post-quantum cryptography” already exists, even before quantum computers do. Earlier this year academics suggested, controversially, that they had solved the maths to make “quantum-resistant” the main cryptography used on the internet. The main use of quantum technology might not be to hack existing systems but to create unbreakable protection for communication networks of the future. China claims to have launched such a network this year.

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Mark Zuckerberg sets toughest new year's goal yet: fixing Facebook

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 19:55:32 GMT2018-01-04T19:55:32Z

CEO reveals this year’s ‘personal challenge’ as site faces relentless criticism over spreading of misinformation and damage to users’ mental health

Amid unceasing criticism of Facebook’s immense power and pernicious impact on society, its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced Thursday that his “personal challenge” for 2018 will be “to focus on fixing these important issues”.

Zuckerberg’s new year’s resolution – a tradition for the executive who in previous years has pledged to learn Mandarin, run 365 miles, and read a book each week – is a remarkable acknowledgment of the terrible year Facebook has had.

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Can Facebook win its battle against election interference in 2018?

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 19:00:09 GMT2017-12-28T19:00:09Z

Claims of Russian meddling dominated 2017. The US midterm elections will be first big test of Facebook’s effort to stamp it out

Social networks spent much of 2017 slowly coming to terms with the extent to which their platforms had been exploited to spread political misinformation. But the narrow focus of investigations over the last year is likely to cause further pain in 2018, as the US midterm elections create a new urgency for the problem to be solved.

At the beginning of this year, Facebook was hostile to the suggestion that it may have played an unwitting part in a foreign influence campaign. After the election of Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, described the suggestion that his site may have swayed voters as a “crazy idea”, despite evidence that hoaxes and lies had been spread on the social network during the campaign. (He later apologised for the comment, saying it was “dismissive and I regret it”.)

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Safety Check: is Facebook becoming fear’s administrator-in-chief?

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 08:00:40 GMT2017-12-28T08:00:40Z

This year, Facebook turned on its notification function for attacks in London and Las Vegas, Stockholm and St Petersburg. But do we feel more secure?

You know the drill by now: a terrorist atrocity or catastrophe occurs in your home town, and no sooner have you seen the news than you receive a Facebook notification that one of your friends has marked themselves safe, or that another is asking you to do so.

This was my experience during the attack in Westminster in March, with friends as far away as Canada asking me to declare myself “safe”. Clicking on Facebook’s nagging notification revealed 31 of my friends were apparently out of danger, but a further 249 were “not marked as safe”.

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2018 will be the year 4K TV goes big, but HDR still lags behind

Tue, 26 Dec 2017 09:00:44 GMT2017-12-26T09:00:44Z

The Winter Olympics, Wimbledon, the World Cup and Premier League football will drive 4K into the mainstream – but HDR will remain niche

During Black Friday and the run up to Christmas , discounted TVs have been advertised with buzzwords such as 4K, UltraHD and HDR banded around as the latest and greatest thing – but is now the right time to buy one?

Having been burned by 3DTV and then annoyed by often rubbish smart TVs, you could be forgiven for thinking that 4K and HDR are the next big forgettable fad.

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Game developer Quantic Dream accused of 'toxic' and 'sexist' working environment

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 17:58:51 GMT2018-01-15T17:58:51Z

The two French studio heads behind supernatural adventure Beyond: Two Souls face accusations of inappropriate behaviour towards staff

French video game studio Quantic Dream has been accused of propagating a toxic working environment, according to reports in three French news publications.

Quantic Dream is one of France’s best-known and most successful development studios. Its mature-themed cinematic games, including psychological horror title Heavy Rain and supernatural adventure Beyond: Two Souls, have sold in their millions. But stories published by Le Monde, investigative site Mediapart and gaming site Canard PC allege that the company’s success hides a “a toxic corporate culture” where inappropriate language and behaviour is routine and employees face overwhelming workloads.

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Dark Souls remastered for Nintendo Switch console

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:23:43 GMT2018-01-11T15:23:43Z

New version of acclaimed dark fantasy adventure coming to Nintendo Switch in May

Landmark action-adventure game Dark Souls is being remastered for Nintendo’s Switch console, the company announced today. The game was shown alongside a number of other new versions of older games for Switch, including cult hit The World Ends With You, Super Nintendo classic Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze and Hyrule Warriors.

Dark Souls, an intricate and arcane work of dark fantasy, pits players against a world of demonic creatures, is widely regarded as one of the best video games of all time.

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Meltdown: Epic Games blames bug fix for online game slowdown

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 10:49:45 GMT2018-01-08T10:49:45Z

Increased processor use occurred when company installed patches to fix flaws, leaving players of online battle game Fortnite unable to login

The first real-world effects of processor vulnerabilities Meltdown and Spectre are beginning to show, due to fixes for the two megabugs which have the side-effect of slowing down cloud services worldwide.

Online video game Fortnite is one of the worst hit, with the game’s creators attributing login issues and service instability to a 30 percentage point spike in processor use that occurred when the company installed the patches.

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The best board games for January 2018: Fog of Love; Legacy of Dragonholt

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 15:11:30 GMT2018-01-05T15:11:30Z

One is an emotionally charged love story, the other is a swords-and-sorcery adventure. But they’re both exceptional story-driven games

Welcome to our regular look at the best new board games. This month, we’re diving into two story-driven new releases – and two very different worlds of romance and sword-swinging adventure.

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Peter Thiel makes offer to buy Gawker, the news site he helped bankrupt

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 00:47:50 GMT2018-01-12T00:47:50Z

Venture capitalist faces legal hurdles by bidding for site, which has been shut down for more than a year following Hulk Hogan lawsuit he bankrolled

Venture capitalist Peter Thiel has made an offer for Gawker, hoping to overcome legal hurdles and rival bidders for the site whose collapse the billionaire helped precipitate last year, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

Gawker’s news site has been inactive for more than a year, after it was shut down following a massive lawsuit against it by wrestling star Hulk Hogan, which Thiel bankrolled. In 2007, Gawker revealed Thiel was gay.

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James Damore sues Google, alleging intolerance of white male conservatives

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 23:10:24 GMT2018-01-08T23:10:24Z

Class-action lawsuit led by fired engineer includes 100 pages of internal documents and claims conservatives are ‘ostracized, belittled, and punished’

Google is facing renewed controversy over its alleged intolerance toward conservatives at the company, after a class action lawsuit filed by former engineer James Damore disclosed almost 100 pages of screen shots of internal communications in which employees discuss sensitive political issues.

Related: 'I see things differently': James Damore on his autism and the Google memo

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Google faces new discrimination charge: paying female teachers less than men

Wed, 03 Jan 2018 17:43:10 GMT2018-01-03T17:43:10Z

Exclusive: former employee alleges that women hired to work as preschool teachers in the company’s childcare center were paid lower salaries than men with fewer qualifications doing same job

Google, which has been accused of systematically underpaying female engineers and other workers, is now facing allegations that it discriminated against women who taught employees’ children at the company’s childcare center.

A former employee, Heidi Lamar, is alleging in a complaint that female teachers were paid lower salaries than men with fewer qualifications doing the same job.

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New Year's resolutions for big tech: how Silicon Valley can be better in 2018

Sun, 31 Dec 2017 07:00:23 GMT2017-12-31T07:00:23Z

Tech is one of the richest and most powerful industries in America – and it gets an awful lot wrong. So here’s some seasonal advice for Silicon Valley’s biggest beasts

New Year’s resolutions are crap. The entire exercise is rife with failure and self-loathing, and you, dearest, have no need to make any. You are already reading the Guardian. You are perfect exactly the way you are.

Infinitely more fun than reflecting on one’s own shortcomings is diagnosing the problems of other, richer, more powerful entities. It is in that spirit that we have created a list of New Year’s resolutions for the tech industry. Our resolution will be to continue doing our best to hold them to account, which, like the most successful resolutions, is what we were already planning to do anyway.

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Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han – review

Sat, 30 Dec 2017 08:01:07 GMT2017-12-30T08:01:07Z

An examination of the internet age suggests that we should cultivate the heresies of secrets and silence

During a commercial break in the 1984 Super Bowl, Apple broadcast an ad directed by Ridley Scott. Glum, grey workers sat in a vast grey hall listening to Big Brother’s declamations on a huge screen. Then a maverick athlete-cum-Steve-Jobs-lackey hurled a sledgehammer at the screen, shattering it and bathing workers in healing light. “On January 24th,” the voiceover announced, “Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like [Orwell’s] Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

The ad’s idea, writes Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han, was that the Apple Mac would liberate downtrodden masses from the totalitarian surveillance state. And indeed, the subsequent rise of Apple, the internet, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Google Glass means that today we live in nothing like the nightmare Orwell imagined. After all, Big Brother needed electroshock, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, drugs and hectoring propaganda broadcasts to keep power, while his Ministry of Plenty ensured that consumer goods were lacking to make sure subjects were in an artificial state of need.

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The week in radio: Grenfell: Dust on Our Lips; Darknet Diaries; The Tip Off

Sun, 17 Dec 2017 08:00:26 GMT2017-12-17T08:00:26Z

Devastating testimony did justice to the Grenfell tragedy, ‘virtual lives’ were shown being upended by hackers, and a fearless podcast continued to speak truth to power

Grenfell: Dust On Our Lips (Radio 4) | iPlayer
Darknet Diaries |
The Tip Off | iTunes

Six months since the Grenfell fire, and the wounds are still raw. In Radio 4’s Grenfell: Dust On Our Lips, a local mother described how, on the night of the fire, she saw children at one of Grenfell Tower’s windows, “with the fire behind them. And then they weren’t there any more”. She explained how her own children talk about the tower, which they see every day: “They’re scared it’s going to fall on them.”

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Amazon Fire TV 4K HDR review: compact upgrade to make your TV smarter

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 10:57:34 GMT2017-12-14T10:57:34Z

The tech firm’s new streaming dongle condenses what was great about the previous generation into a smaller, cheaper package

The Amazon Fire TV with 4K HDR is arguably the easiest and best way to play ultra HD content on your TV, condensing what was great about the previous generation into a smaller, cheaper package.

The new Fire TV is no longer a set-top box – instead it’s more like the cheaper Fire TV Stick, hanging off a built-in flexible HDMI cable. It means the new Fire TV can be inserted straight into the back of a TV, hidden from view, and likely powered straight from the TV’s USB port.

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Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: a powerful yet pricey laptop-tablet combo

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 07:00:27 GMT2017-12-12T07:00:27Z

With prices starting at £1,500, this isn’t a casual purchase – but with its detachable screen, this could be the best Windows 10 power-user laptop going

The first generation Surface Book was a feat of engineering that took Microsoft’s Surface tablet PC and turned it on its head, making it a laptop first and a tablet second. The Surface Book 2 refines a few things, adds much more power and finally adopts USB-C.

If you’re primarily a laptop user, who occasionally wants to take just the screen with you and needs some brawn for your processing duties, the Surface Book 2 is the machine for you. But getting your head around what the machine can do is the first challenge.

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Games reviews roundup: Dimension Drive; Xenoblade Chronicles 2; Oh My Godheads

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 07:00:15 GMT2017-12-11T07:00:15Z

A sophisticated space arcade experience, a Xenoblade instalment pushing the Switch to great things, and head-rolling fun in an unlikely multiplayer mashup

Switch, Linux, Mac, PC, 2Awesome Studio, cert: 7

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Simon Parkin’s best video games of 2017

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 08:00:30 GMT2017-12-10T08:00:30Z

An immersive, interactive exploration of life on Earth and Nintendo’s resurgent flights of escapism were among the highlights of the gaming year

• Observer critics’ reviews of the year in full

As social media shrinks and quickens the world, and the threats we face seem to grow ever taller and closer, the relevance of entertainment (and, whisper it, art) appears to diminish. Surely the king’s ransom it takes to fund a blockbuster film would be more usefully and perhaps profitably applied to combating climate change, or Boris Johnson’s gaffes? What is a commissioned oil portrait if not the most extravagant of all selfies, taken in a world to whose indignities and injustices no one can claim to be blind? In this context, video games can seem like the hollowest endeavours of all. They cost ever larger sums to build, require ever greater numbers of talented minds to make, and distract ever more humans from the practical issues of reality.

And yet in video games we often perceive some of the mathematical building blocks of existence, often follow the logical chains of cause and effect that follow our actions and reactions, and occasionally catch ghostly, flitting shadows of how life works and maybe even what it means.

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Overheard review – the sketch show reinvented with tiny, joyful snippets of comic tapas

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 17:14:35 GMT2017-12-07T17:14:35Z

In these gloriously skewed shorts, comedians Ben Ashenden and Alexander Owen film unsuspecting people, imagine their conversations and add hilarious voiceovers

What is it? A sketch comedy micro-series using secretly filmed footage of the public.

Why you’ll love it: These tiny, joyful, stupid snippets of comic tapas are made by comedians Ben Ashenden and Alexander Owen, known jointly as The Pin. After three series of their highly inventive and critically admired Radio 4 show, they have moved into a new medium. But the straightforward sketch show, trotting out and repeating the same characters and situations is not for them.

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Dawn of the New Everything by Jaron Lanier review – virtual reality patter

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 12:00:10 GMT2017-12-07T12:00:10Z

The techno-sage and Silicon Valley insider sees VR as emancipatory and liberating but what does ‘shared lucid dreaming’ actually mean?

I experienced virtual reality for the first time the other day, at a training workshop for university lecturers. When I donned the Oculus Rift – a sleek plastic headset with handheld controls – I was presented with a desk on which sat some cartoonishly rendered objects: a ball, a toy car, a ray gun. I picked up the gun and fired off a few shots. I rolled the ball off the table. Then the lenses in the goggles misted up and I grew bored.

I couldn’t see how virtual reality was supposed to help with the teaching of literature, but the techno-apparatchiks who were our guides for the day assured me that this was the future of pedagogy (a word they liked). “Just imagine,” they said, “one day your students won’t just be able to read books: they’ll experience what it’s like to be in them.”

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When man meets metal: rise of the transhumans

Sun, 29 Oct 2017 08:00:22 GMT2017-10-29T08:00:22Z

At the borderline of technology and biology, ‘bodyhacking’ pioneers are defying nature to redesign their own bodies. Is this really the future?

Earlier this year I went to an event in Austin, Texas, billed as a sneak preview of the evolution of our species. The #Bdyhax Conference, which took place in a downtown exhibition complex, promised a front-row insight into the coming “singularity” – that nirvana foretold by science fiction in which biology and technology would fuse and revolutionise human capability and experience.

The headline acts of the conference were mostly bodyhackers – DIY experimenters who, in their basements and garages, seek to enhance their own flesh and blood with biometric implants and cognitive enablers. These brave pioneers were extending their senses, overcoming physical limitation, Dan-Daring themselves and the rest of us into the future.

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‘Tis the season for unfettered government access to your data

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 10:00:50 GMT2017-12-22T10:00:50Z

Giving a voice-activated device to someone for Christmas? Think again

It’s your holiday party. You’re playing music throughout your house with your voice-activated speakers. The speakers, while playing the music, are listening to you and your guests, waiting for a “wake” word. A few days later, there is a knock on your door. It’s the police. They have questions about a conversation you had with one of your guests, who has gone missing, and would like access to your speakers’ data. Will you let them?

Most would answer “no”, but the police do not have to stop there. Under the supreme court’s third-party doctrine, police are not required to obtain a warrant before requesting access to your voice-activated speaker’s data stored on company servers – that means even if you refuse the police’s request, the company that made your voice-activated speakers may nonetheless turn over any of the recordings it has of your conversations – and it may not even tell you about it, raising serious privacy and constitutional concerns.

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Francophone: France prefers ‘le mobile multifonction’ to smartphone

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 01:49:02 GMT2018-01-16T01:49:02Z

Enrichment Commission for the French Language also prefers ‘fibronique’ for fiber optics

Smartphones may have become ubiquitous in France but the country’s language mavens hope there’s still time to keep the word from becoming ensconced in everyday speech.

The Enrichment Commission for the French Language has come up with what it considers a more suitable expression: “le mobile multifonction”, or the multifunction cellphone.

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CES 2018: voice-controlled showers, non-compliant robots and smart toilets

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 14:16:00 GMT2018-01-12T14:16:00Z

Voice assistants were in everything at the trade show, suggesting the future is smart – but does anyone actually want to talk to their toilet?

The annual trend-setting tech extravaganza that is CES International in Las Vegas is drawing to a close, having suffered through torrential rain, blackouts and a few uncooperative robots. And it’s clear that your voice is more important than ever.

CES 2018 rammed home that big technology thinks voice is the next major evolution in computing. First we had the computer, then the smartphone and now voice assistants.

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Kodak leads surge of companies exploiting bitcoin buzz

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 12:22:23 GMT2018-01-11T12:22:23Z

Companies pivoting to, or just showing an interest in, cryptocurrencies and associated technologies have resulted in a sudden burst in share price

Kodak hit headlines this week when the company announced a plan to launch “photo-centric cryptocurrency to empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management”. In other words, the venerable camera company is getting in on the bitcoin hype.

Shares in Kodak, which had been largely flat for the previous three months and steadily declining for the five years before that, more than doubled in the following 24 hours, as the company insisted that it was not simply pumping out “hot buzzwords”.

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Do I still need PC tuning software for Windows 10?

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 11:47:37 GMT2018-01-11T11:47:37Z

Ludo wonders if he should keep paying for commercial clean-up program to run in Windows 10. Fortunately there are free alternative suites

Do I still need paid-for software like ParetoLogic’s PC Health Advisor with Windows 10 Pro? Ludo

Short answer: no. Tune-up programs enjoyed some success in the boom years from Windows 95 to XP, when hardware was slower and optimisation might make a difference. Today, Windows 10 looks after itself pretty well, and the simplest “tune up” is to go to the Recovery section of the Settings app and choose “Reset this PC”. Another option is to restore from a back-up made before any problems appeared.

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CES 2018: less 'whoa', more 'no!' – tech fails to learn from its mistakes at annual pageant

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 10:56:39 GMT2018-01-10T10:56:39Z

From finicky robots to a not-so-smart suitcase, this year’s Consumer Electronics Show found an industry out of touch with the problems it really needs to solve

It’s standing room only in a swirly-carpeted room at the conference centre attached to the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. There’s a sea of technology journalists, mostly men, with name badges dangling from lime green lanyards and clear plastic backpacks (a conference freebie) reminiscent of a 1990s Gwen Stefani. Dubstep starts playing.

“CES 2017 brought the whoa,” appears on screen, followed by a sequence of fast-cut shots of robots, drones and VR headsets. “This year we’re turning things up. So get ready for more whoa than ever before.”

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How smart speakers stole the show from smartphones

Sat, 06 Jan 2018 08:00:07 GMT2018-01-06T08:00:07Z

Amazon and Google believe they’ve struck gold with their voice-controlled speakers while Apple and Microsoft struggle to catch up

Move over smartphones. The battle now raging between the big technology companies for consumer cash is focused on the voice-controlled smart speaker.

Having already conquered the pocket with the ubiquitous smartphone, big tech has been struggling to come up with the next must-have gadget that will open up a potentially lucrative new market – the home.

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