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This week, getting perspective on things with some new maps, details on four clever ideas Canadian students came up with to solve problems in their communities, and why Apple wants Oprah. But first, why you might want to turn off the colour on your smartphone.

Going greyscale helps you keep your device time down

Facebook is going to show you how much time you’re spending there. Apple is introducing a new feature, “Screen Time”, to show you what apps you’re using on your iPhone and iPad.

Well, Tristan Harris, who spent three years with Google as the company’s “design ethicist”, wrote a long article in which he details all the ways that technology companies exploit us for their own ends.

He co-founded the Center for Humane Technology to help, and there’s a list of about ten things you can do to take control of your phone.

One is to get rid of the colour. According to Harris, the bright colours app icons are created in keep us coming back to the devices because our lizard brains get rewarded by shiny things.

On an iOS device, you can go grey in the Settings: Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut > Color Filters. By activating the color filters shortcut, you can triple-tap the home button to easily switch between greyscale and colour.

On Android devices enabling greyscale differs depending on which version you’re using, but the menu item is found through the Accessibility menu in the device settings.

Four schools get $20k in tech from Samsung Canada

Schools in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Ontario were named winners of the 2018 Solve for Tomorrow Challenge.

The objective was to use science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to solve a problem being faced by the community students are living in. The four schools will receive $20,000 in Samsung technology as finalists.

  • Fort McMurray, Alberta’s Westwood Community High School shows the alternative energy solutions being used at the school and a plan to share their knowledge with younger students.
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba’s Meadows West School collected traffic data and used virtual reality to educate parents on the problems and dangers faced by students during the busy drop-off and pick-up times at schools.
  • Moncton, New Brunswick’s Bernice MacNaughton High School designed an aquaponics system to grow food, with the intent to one day share the surplus with a local food depot.
  • Thornhill, Ontario’s Thornlea Secondary School developed an automatic pollination system to support the growing of plants in the absence of natural pollinators like bees.

Apple inks deal with Oprah

Apple’s push to build out its content library continues. This month, the company announced a “multi-year content partnership” with Oprah Winfrey to “create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world.”

This does not conflict with Oprah’s cable network, OWN, which she created with Discovery Communications.

Apple has reportedly set aside US$1 billion for content, and already has other projects in the works. There’s a reboot of “Amazing Stories” from Steven Spielberg, a series from M. Night Shyamalan, and another that will star Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, who will also executive produce.

Earth Timelapse uses maps to show what’s going on in the world

A collaboration between the think tank Igarapé Institute and Carnegie Mellon University, Earth Timelapse “tracks climactic and human-induced risks on a planetary scale over the past three decades.”

Using publicly available data, Earth Timelapse plots the information on a map over time to show trends and flows.

A number of the visualizations have been recorded and posted to YouTube and they are revealing.

In a video produced by the BBC and embedded below, Robert Muggah explains that Western anti-immigrant attitudes are unfounded, as the data shows clearly that most refugee movement is to neighbouring countries. And when terrorism data is layered on top of that, it’s also clear that refugees are not themselves terrorists, but are escaping violence.

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This week, Samsung has opened a new research centre in Toronto to develop artificial intelligence software and integrations, Shell has opened Canada’s first hydrogen vehicle refuelling station in Vancouver, and the World Health Organization has added “gaming disorder” to its classification of diseases. But first, are you ready to ask Alexa to order room service?

Amazon wants you to use Alexa as your personal concierge in your hotel room

This week, Alexa for Hospitality was revealed by Amazon. The new suite of voice-activated features for Amazon’s Echo devices is intended to make Alexa “the hub of the room”.

Really, this is about giving hotel guests the same kind of functionality that they are already getting at home. There’s real convenience in asking Alexa to turn on the lights for you.

Plus, at the hotel you can order room service. Or towels. You can find out about events and attractions close to you and restaurant recommendations.

Marriott International will be using Alexa for Hospitality in about a dozen of its U.S. locations this summer.

Wynn Las Vegas announced last December it intended to install Echos in all of its nearly 5000 rooms

Ultimately, Amazon hopes you’ll be able to log in to your account so you can use Alexa to tap into your playlists and contacts. Until then, you’ll be able to connect your mobile device using Bluetooth.

Amazon insists that hotel owners and operators will not be able to eavesdrop on anything said to Alexa, or accompanying responses.

And you can always unplug it.

Canada’s first hydrogen vehicle filling station has opened in Vancouver

Electric vehicles are all the rage these days. But not all EVs need to be plugged in.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles create electricity by processing compressed hydrogen. The byproduct is water vapour.

There are two primary upsides of hydrogen vehicles over plug-in electrics. The first is range. Hydrogen vehicles have a top range of some 700 km. The second benefit is fuelling time, which only takes a few minutes.

The trick there is finding a place to refuel.

Shell’s just opened Canada’s first hydrogen fuelling station in south Vancouver at Granville and West 71 Avenue. It’s the first of three planned for metro Vancouver, with another three planned for the Victoria area. The stations are being constructed by North Vancouver’s HTEC.

“Gaming disorder” added by World Health Organization as a mental health disorder

The latest edition of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases has been released and it includes the classification of a new gaming disorder.

The criteria for being diagnosed are:

  • Not doing anything else but play video games
  • Playing the games is negatively affecting the rest of a person’s life
  • Despite those negative consequences, continuing to play

Even the WHO doctor who proposed the disorder admitted to CNN that the likelihood of this disorder being diagnosed is “very low”.

Critics say the criteria are too broad and threaten to further stigmatize people who play games.

A Texas psychologist who works with people who believe they are addicted to video games told CNN that the experts working in mental health “do not understand the gaming population”.

Treating all gamers who may have difficulties the same is a mistake. For one, ages range from preteens to adults in their forties. And people playing Minecraft and people playing Call of Duty are having vastly different experiences.

This is not to say that people don’t have problems with playing video games more than they should. This is often a symptom of other problems such as anxiety and depression. And in many cases, the playing of the games can actually help cope with and solve those other mental health problems.

Doing anything too much could be considered addictive. The answer is to make sure you’re asking the right questions if you think someone has a problem.

Samsung opens research centre in Toronto to develop artificial intelligence

Canada continues to be a hotbed for tech innovation, with Samsung announcing in May that it’s opening a research facility in Toronto.

In a release, the company said that the Samsung AI Centre will “contribute to building the connected future by accelerating the adoption of intelligence on multiple devices ranging from household appliances to cars”.

Samsung executive Larry Heck said that Canada is “home to not only world-class talent, but also some of the most innovative start-ups in the artificial intelligence field”.

The Centre is part of Toronto’s tech hub at the MaRS Discovery district.

This adds to Samsung’s Canadian tech development footprint, which includes a research and development centre in Vancouver.

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The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo wraps up tomorrow in Los Angeles. This year the focus has not been on hardware but on the big games that you’re going to be playing in the next year. Here’s a rundown of what I’m looking forward to.

The big three

Nintendo

Nintendo’s Switch console is going strong, with more developers and publishers porting games to the system every day, including Fortnite, which has already been downloaded more than two million times since being released yesterday. At E3, the company focused on titles that are releasing this year, including Pokémon: Let’s Go (in two flavours. Pikachu and Eevee) and a new Super Mario Party.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Nintendo’s big game for 2018 is this fighting game for the Switch that will include, according to the company, every character that has ever appeared in previous Smash Bros. games, including those licensed from other developers and publishers.

PlayStation

The PS4 is still the most popular gaming system available, and Sony is strong with exclusive games for the platform. Two of the best games from the past 12 months – God of War and Horizon Zero Dawn – came from Sony studios. At E3, the company is focused on more of those exclusives.

Death Stranding

Starring Norman Reedus, from The Walking Dead, as Sam Bridges, a courier on an alien planet populated by strange, dangerous, invisible creatures. This game comes from the mind of Hideo Kojima, who created the Metal Gear series of games, and it has his signature cinematic flair for the bizarre.

The Last of Us Part II

A sequel to one of the best action games ever made, Naughty Dog is again blending moments of extreme emotion with episodes of breathtaking violence. Ellie is the main character in this one, and in the gameplay trailer you can see that she’s still vulnerable, and capable too.

Marvel’s Spider-Man

California-based Insomniac Games has blended the crazy chaos of its under-appreciated Sunset Overdrive with the superhero swagger Rocksteady brought to Batman with the Arkham games.

Xbox

Microsoft’s Xbox One X is the best hardware available, but its success has been limited by a lack of exclusive titles. The company is determined to change that, and at its E3 press briefing announced the acquisition and formation of five new studios, including Montreal’s Compulsion Games, which created the unsettling We Happy Few, and Ninja Theory, which has developed a handful of stellar titles including Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, DmC: Devil May Cry, and last year’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Halo Infinite

We don’t know much. Only that Master Chief is back. And his helmet is off.

Gears of War

There are actually three new Gears games coming in the near future from Vancouver studio, The Coalition. Gears Pop! is a mobile game that turns the iconic characters into Funko vinyl collectibles, and Gears Tactics is a turn-based game exclusive to Windows 10. Gears 5 features the character of Kait from Gears of War 4, as she tries to come to terms with some family history.

The publishers

Activision

Destiny 2: Forsaken

The next major expansion for Bungie’s third-person shooter includes a new gaming mode called Gambit, which pits two teams of four against each other and against the game at the same time. Plus, Cayde-6, the wisecracking Hunter vanguard played by Canadian actor Nathan Fillion, dies. Maybe. Judge for yourself.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Coming from From Software, which made Dark Souls and Bloodborne, comes another game that seems like more of the same, but is quite different. Here, movement is key. Your character, inspired by ninja, is equipped with a grappling hook. You can swap it out for a powerful axe if you need to.

Bethesda

In addition to a mobile game for its Elder Scrolls series (Elder Scrolls Blades), Bethesda revealed that two new games are in development, The Elder Scrolls 6, and Starfield, a new franchise set in space.

Fallout 76

In a departure from its single-player role-playing games, the next Fallout game is actually a multiplayer game. And it tells of the first people to leave the fallout shelter after the nuclear apocalypse that is the context for the games we’ve been playing. Each player in the game becomes a character from Vault 76.

Rage 2

This game gives us another post-apocalypse setting, but this one was caused by a meteorite. The resulting world is a chaotic, Mad Max-like place populated by mutants and cretins alike. And you get to play as Walker, “the last ranger of the wasteland.”

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts has its annual stipend in FIFA, Madden NFL, and NHL, but there’s more to EA than EA Sports.

Anthem

The next game from Bioware is a new multiplayer space opera. For a studio that has been so resolute with the single-player games, this is a distinct departure, especially when you consider how Bioware games have always found a way to make a player’s decisions impact the story being told. But Bioware has a solid track record of creating new franchises that last.

Battlefield 5

Delivering a Battle Royale mode and the ability to play as a female soldier might seem like DICE is just jumping on the bandwagon, but really it’s the developers showing how they’re willing to make changes to the games to make them better.

Ubisoft

Ubisoft’s got a lot going on, with sequels to The Crew and The Division as well as a new dirt-bike platforming release in the form of Trials Rising. And then there’s these.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

The next game in the franchise lands players in the world of Greece during the time of the Spartan warriors, and becoming more of a role-playing game all the time.

Beyond Good and Evil 2

The long awaited game – a prequel, despite the numeral in the title – is splendorous. The new trailer ends with what can only be called a surprise character reveal.

Skull & Bones

Since introducing pirate ships in Assassins’ Creed 4, Ubisoft has been making it fun to sail the seas while firing cannonballs.

Games from other studios

Control

From Remedy and 505 Games.

Cyberpunk 2077

From Projekt Red, the creators of The Witcher series of RPGs.

Metro Exodus

From Deep Silver, the latest game based on the novels of Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky.

Red Dead Redemption II

From Rockstar Games, this one is set in the American West in 1899.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

From Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, the third game since the franchise reboot, and one in which Lara Croft comes to terms with the consequences of her actions.

Devil May Cry 5

From Capcom, this reunites director Hideaki Itsuno with his original design team for this game featuring Nero and a new supporting character, Nico.

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