Tech round-up for March 13: Tesla flip-flops on pricing, computer-generated faces, survey of Canadian internet users, Metro Exodus and Observer video games

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This week, the eerie accuracy of fake faces, Canadians and internet behaviour, and the video games Metro Exodus and Observer. But first, Tesla reverses a decision on price drops of electric vehicles.

Tesla drops the price of its electric vehicles, raises them the next week

Tesla has a problem sticking to a strategy. Last week it was one thing. Now the opposite is happening.

Last week, the car manufacturer announced that it was dropping the prices on all its vehicles, including the Model S and Model X, and introduced a new trim package of the Model 3. The idea was to sell more cars by getting closer to the price point that CEO Elon Musk wanted for the Model 3, which was intended to be for the average consumer.

In order to save costs, the company said it would close down showrooms, arguing that most customers are purchasing their Tesla online anyway.

In a blog post published this week, the company has revealed that “Tesla will need to raise vehicle prices by about 3% on average worldwide” because it will not be closing down so many stores.

The price of the new, Standard Range Model 3, will remain at Cdn$47,600, before incentives, which vary depending on where in Canada you live.

If you want a Model S, Model X, or premium Model 3, you’ve got until March 18 before prices go up.

Computers are creating human faces with eerie accuracy

In an effort to make us “aware of the ease with which digital identities can be faked, and to help you spot these fakes at a single glance,” University of Washington professors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West have used data from a generative adversarial network created by NVIDIA to generate realistic-looking faces.

How well can you differentiate between a real face and a fake one?

Bergstrom and West created the Which Face Is Real website as part of their critical-thinking course, Calling Bullshit, which is offered at UW.

Canadians wary of internet threats and privacy breaches

In December, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) conducted a survey of 1,200 Canadians to suss out opinions and attitudes about internet privacy, security, and information. The results were released last month, and are unsurprising.

Here are some highlights:

Social media and fake news

  • 75% say they come across fake news at least sometimes
  • 57% have been taken in by a fake news item
  • 70% are concerned that fake news could impact the outcome of the next federal election

Privacy

  • 72% are willing to disclose some or a little personal information in exchange for a valuable/convenient service
  • 87% are concerned that businesses with access to customers’ personal data willingly share it with third parties without consent
  • 86% believe it is important that government data, including the personal information of Canadians, be stored and transmitted in Canada only

Cybersecurity

  • 87% are concerned about a potential cyberattack against organizations with access to their personal data
  • Only 19% say they would continue to do business with an organization if their personal data were exposed in a cyberattack
  • 78% are concerned about the potential security threats related to the Internet of Things

  • 69% believe the high cost of internet services, including for mobile data, is hurting Canada’s economy and prosperity
  • 83% believe that universal access to high-speed internet is important for Canada’s overall economic growth and prosperity
  • 70% agree that the Canadian government should be doing more to support public access to high-speed internet
  • 66% support the principles of net neutrality

What strikes me, though, is the disconnect between how people have responded to this survey and how they actually behave. If only 81% say they would stop doing business with an organization if their data was exposed we should be seeing a lot fewer people on Facebook these days.

I suspect that people are concerned about privacy and security, but have little concept of how threatened they are in reality.

Two new games from Eastern European developers dwell in dystopia

Earlier this year, two games were released that immerse players in strange futures.

Metro Exodus, developed by 4A Games, based in the Ukraine, is the third game in the first-person shooter franchise based on the novels of Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky. This Russia is a place where citizens are struggling to survive a nuclear apocalypse. In the first two games, much of the activity takes place in the subway tunnels of Moscow, which are deep under the surface, therefore providing an environment safe from fallout.

In Exodus, the setting shifts outside, giving us a glimpse of what a nuclear winter looks like. The narrative is structured around pulling apart the story constructed in the first games. It’s a clever trick to inject something new to the games while keeping them familiar and serves to force players who have played those earlier games to reconsider exactly what they thought happened.

Along with battling bizarre, mutated monsters you will be managing your meagre resources and scavenging and crafting. This is a post-apocalyptic setting after all.

Metro Exodus, available for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One, is a standard shooter experience that is distinguished by its setting.

Observer was originally developed by Polish studio Bloober Team back in 2017 (for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One) and has ported to the Nintendo Switch. The game features Rutger Hauer as Daniel Lazarski, a detective of sorts who has the ability to see the world around him through different augmentation filters, and to hack into not just machines, but minds.

The cyberpunk atmosphere is well suited to the plot, which centers around the uncontrolled power of corporations in a future in which nationalism has collapsed after a “digital plague” ravishes society.

There’s no combat here, but plenty to think about. As Lazarski, you collect information and evidence from the environment, piecing together a story as you go. The bleak tone is very Blade Runner and Hauer instills his character with a palpable weariness.

While the controls of Observer are at times frustrating, and the experience a bit uneven, the exploration and hacking provide a different kind of game to play on the Switch.

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