Tech round-up for March 14: RIP Stephen Hawking, sentient Alexa, time-saving autocorrect, violent video games

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, understanding why Alexa became scary last week, considering how much time you’ve saved using autocorrect, and setting the record straight on the impact of video game violence. But first, Stephen Hawking has died.

Stephen Hawking has become the stuff of stars

Stephen Hawking, who advanced our understanding of black holes and the nature of the universe, has died.

Given two years to live after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at age 21, Hawking made the most of his time, saying, “I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research.”

And while he was wrong about some of his ideas, he was correct a lot, too. His influence on science, physics, and cosmology is unparalleled.

Think of it this way: He had to do all the math and calculations in his head.

Beyond his contributions to science, he also popularized science, including really difficult concepts like relativity and space-time. There are many scientists today who would agree that Hawking was one reason for their career path.

Amazon’s Alexa toys with sentience

We were all aflutter last week when people – Echo users – shared audio and video of Alexa laughing at them.

Understandably, people were freaked out.

Amazon reportedly came out with a fix for the problem within a couple of days, and said that the devices had likely picked up traces of conversations that were interpreted to be instructing Alexa to laugh.

So remember that if you’ve got these devices in the house, they are always listening. Although I don’t believe in the conspiracy that they are always eavesdropping.

Now if you did ask Alexa to laugh, and it’s reasonable to assume many people do, just to see how robust the interface is, the sound of Alexa laughing is very troubling. It does not sound like a person, but like a machine trying to sound like a person.

It’s an uncanny valley for sound.

But what if what was going on last week as Alexa actually becoming aware? Did we unwittingly experience true machine intelligence for the first time?

Now that’s scary.

WTF? Autocorrect can be good for you?

In the age of social media, and smartphones, there are constant examples of how autocorrect features bungle message and meaning. But autocorrect can be your friend.

In an article for the Spectator last year, the newspaper’s literary editor, Sam Leith, asked a few writers about their process of writing.

Michael Moorcock, of the Eternal Champion series of books, remembers writing 15,000 words a day – a novel every three days – in part because he was a “very fast typist”.

For some writers, being able to record thoughts quickly is a benefit.

In the same article, Geoff Dyer estimates he may have saved “a couple of years” because of how he uses autocorrect settings.

It’s an interesting notion. The same kind of shorthand is used across online communication channels to communicate quickly and efficiently. It’s why WTF is listed in the Oxford English dictionary.

Violent video games are not to blame for America’s violence problem

Okay, let’s go over this again: Playing violent video games does not create violent people.

Video games, all sorts of them, are played around the world. It’s only the U.S. that has this problem with gun violence.

The statistics are clear. The vast majority of mass shooters showed no interest in video games.

In fact, one of the mass shooters who did play video games had an obsession with Dance Dance Revolution, which epitomizes non-violence.

And the research is very clear.

Members of the Society for Media Psychology and Technology, a division of the American Psychological Association statement, wrote that, “there’s little scientific evidence to support the connection” between “real-world violence with the perpetrators’ exposure to violent video games or other violent media”.

When research accounts for differences in game mechanics, controls, and frustration, there is no post-aggressive effect.

Finally, violent video games are created and intended for mature audiences. Some of whom also watch the Saw movies.

There are all sorts of video games that are not violent. The video montage below, produced by Games for Change, aims to showcase “the beauty, creativity and joy that is inherent in this medium”.

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