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Updated: 17 min 57 sec ago

Prepare for more red pill memes: a fifth Matrix movie is happening

Wed, 2024-04-03 14:48

There’s another Matrix movie in the works. Warner Bros. just greenlit a fifth installment of the saga, as reported by Deadline. However, neither Lana Wachowski or Lilly Wachowski will be handling directing duties. That honor falls to Drew Goddard, who adapted The Martian into a screenplay and directed the criminally underrated Cabin in the Woods. He's also writing the script. 

Goddard cut his teeth writing episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Lost, among others — you could say he knows his way around genre content. Lana Wachowski will be on board as an executive producer, so there will be some input from one of the franchise’s original creators.

There’s no word as to what the film will be about, but Warner Bros. says that Goddard came to the company with a “new idea that we all believe would be an incredible way to continue the Matrix world.” Goddard added that the original films inspire him on a daily basis and that he is “beyond grateful for the chance to tell stories” in that world.

Warner Bros. is also being cagey as to which, if any, cast members would be returning. The original trilogy featured Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne-Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving and Jada Pinkett Smith. Most of these actors returned for 2021’s The Matrix Resurrections, with one story-based exception.

Speaking of The Matrix Resurrections, it received mixed reviews from both critics and audiences. We loved the film, going as far as to call it brilliant, but admitted that it wasn’t for everyone. That’s par for the course with this franchise. Every single Matrix movie beyond the first one is divisive. We’ll have to wait and see what Goddard brings to the table.

He’s also writing a film adaptation based on another novel by The Martian scribe Andy Weir. Project Hail Mary will be directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and will star Ryan Gosling as an astronaut trying to save the planet from a star-eating microbe.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/prepare-for-more-red-pill-memes-a-fifth-matrix-movie-is-happening-184811691.html?src=rss

The next Ubisoft Forward showcase is set for June 10 alongside WWDC

Wed, 2024-04-03 13:02

Ubisoft has revealed when its next major showcase will take place. The latest edition of Ubisoft Forward is set for June 10 in Los Angeles. That's at the tailend of the main slate of Summer Game Fest festivities, and on the same day as Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote.

While Ubisoft hasn't revealed specifically what it plans to show off at Forward, it's promising updates and news on upcoming releases. During its most recent earnings report, Ubisoft said it would shed more light on some upcoming projects in May, but it seems Forward is now the more likely venue for that.

It’s back ✨

Join us live from Los Angeles for #UbiForward on June 10 for updates and upcoming releases! pic.twitter.com/PevpR3rfvH

— Ubisoft (@Ubisoft) April 3, 2024

At Forward, we'll probably find out more details about what's next for Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft's flagship franchise. The feudal Japan-set Assassin's Creed Codename Red is slated to arrive within the next year, while we've long been awaiting more info on Assassin's Creed Infinity, which is set to tie the series together,

It's a safe bet that Star Wars Outlaws will get some shine at Forward, since that game is scheduled for release in 2024. With XDefiant being delayed indefinitely (it was supposed to arrive by the end of March) amid reports of a troubled development process, perhaps we'll find out more about that game at Forward too. Mobile games The Division Resurgence and Rainbow Six Mobile were also slated to come under the spotlight in May, so we could see those at Forward as well. Just don't expect any sea shanties this time.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-next-ubisoft-forward-showcase-is-set-for-june-10-alongside-wwdc-170210746.html?src=rss

Microsoft may have finally made quantum computing useful

Wed, 2024-04-03 12:45

The dream of quantum computing has always been exciting: What if we could build a machine working at the quantum level that could tackle complex calculations exponentially faster than a computer limited by classical physics? But despite seeing IBM, Google and others announce iterative quantum computing hardware, they're still not being used for any practical purposes. That might change with today's announcement from Microsoft and Quantinuum, who say they've developed the most error-free quantum computing system yet.

While classical computers and electronics rely on binary bits as their basic unit of information (they can be either on or off), quantum computers work with qubits, which can exist in a superposition of two states at the same time. The trouble with qubits is that they're prone to error, which is the main reason today's quantum computers (known as Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum [NISQ] computers) are just used for research and experimentation.

Microsoft's solution was to group physical qubits into virtual qubits, which allows it to apply error diagnostics and correction without destroying them, and run it all over Quantinuum's hardware. The result was an error rate that was 800 times better than relying on physical qubits alone. Microsoft claims it was able to run more than 14,000 experiments without any errors.

According to Jason Zander, EVP of Microsoft's Strategic Missions and Technologies division, this achievement could finally bring us to "Level 2 Resilient" quantum computing, which would be reliable enough for practical applications.

"The task at hand for the entire quantum ecosystem is to increase the fidelity of qubits and enable fault-tolerant quantum computing so that we can use a quantum machine to unlock solutions to previously intractable problems," Zander, wrote in a blog post today. "In short, we need to transition to reliable logical qubits — created by combining multiple physical qubits together into logical ones to protect against noise and sustain a long (i.e., resilient) computation. ... By having high-quality hardware components and breakthrough error-handling capabilities designed for that machine, we can get better results than any individual component could give us."

Microsoft Quantum ComputingMicrosoft

Researchers will be able to get a taste of Microsoft's reliable quantum computing via Azure Quantum Elements in the next few months, where it will be available as a private preview. The goal is to push even further to Level 3 quantum supercomputing, which will theoretically be able to tackle incredibly complex issues like climate change and exotic drug research. It's unclear how long it'll take to actually reach that point, but for now, at least we're moving one step closer towards practical quantum computing.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/microsoft-may-have-finally-made-quantum-computing-useful-164501302.html?src=rss

Facebook finally adds video controls like a slide bar

Wed, 2024-04-03 12:30

The craze around Facebook Live might be a thing of the past, but Meta is still trying to make the platform video-friendly. The company has announced a new video player for uniformly displaying Reels, longer content and Live videos on the Facebook app. 

One of the biggest shifts is that all of Facebook's videos will now appear full-screen — even landscape-oriented ones. Videos will automatically play vertically, but you can now turn your phone on its side to watch most horizontal content across your entire device. 

Like many videos on TikTok, Facebook will now offer a slider at the bottom of the screen, letting you quickly move through the video. The update also brings some of the same features streamers like Netflix offer in their apps, such as the option to jump forward or backward by 10 seconds. Meta claims that you will now get "more relevant video recommendations" of all lengths appearing on the video tab and in your feed. The company will also be increasing the number of Reels shown on Facebook. 

The video player is rolling out now to Android and iOS users in the United States and Canada, with the new controls launching in the next few weeks. The entire update should be available globally in the coming months.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/facebook-finally-adds-video-controls-like-a-slide-bar-163014443.html?src=rss

The FCC will vote to restore net neutrality later this month

Wed, 2024-04-03 12:18

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to vote to restore net neutrality later this month. With Democrats finally holding an FCC majority in the final year of President Biden’s first term, the agency can fulfill a 2021 executive order from the President and bring back the Obama-era rules that the Trump administration’s FCC gutted in 2017.

The FCC plans to hold the vote during a meeting on April 25. Net neutrality treats broadband services as an essential resource under Title II of the Communications Act, giving the FCC greater authority to regulate the industry. It lets the agency prevent ISPs from anti-consumer behavior like unfair pricing, blocking or throttling content and providing pay-to-play “fast lanes” to internet access.

Democrats had to wait three years to enact Biden’s 2021 executive order to reinstate the net neutrality rules passed in 2015 by President Obama’s FCC. The confirmation process of Biden FCC nominee Gigi Sohn for telecommunications regulator played no small part. She withdrew her nomination in March 2023 following what she called “unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks.”

Republicans (and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin) opposed her confirmation through a lengthy 16-month process. During that period, telecom lobbying dollars flowed freely and Republicans cited past Sohn tweets critical of Fox News, along with vocal opposition from law enforcement, as justification for blocking the confirmation. Democrats finally regained an FCC majority with the swearing-in of Anna Gomez in late September, near the end of Biden’s third year in office.

“The pandemic proved once and for all that broadband is essential,” FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel wrote in a press release. “After the prior administration abdicated authority over broadband services, the FCC has been handcuffed from acting to fully secure broadband networks, protect consumer data, and ensure the internet remains fast, open, and fair. A return to the FCC’s overwhelmingly popular and court-approved standard of net neutrality will allow the agency to serve once again as a strong consumer advocate of an open internet.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-fcc-will-vote-to-restore-net-neutrality-later-this-month-161813609.html?src=rss

Our favorite cheap smartphone is on sale for $250 right now

Wed, 2024-04-03 12:13

You don't need to shell out a four-figure sum to find a great smartphone. In fact, you don't even need to spend half of that to snap up one that covers all of the basics and then some. At its regular price of $300, the OnePlus Nord N30 5G was already our pick for the best cheap phone around. It's currently on sale for $250 ($50) off, which makes it an even better deal. That's close to a record low price. The discount is part of a broader sale on OnePlus phones and earbuds.

The OnePlus Nord N30 5G offers great value however you slice it. The phone has a relatively zippy Snapdragon 695 5G processor, along with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is expandable with a microSD card.

You'll get a 16MP front-facing camera and, on the rear, 108MP main and 2MP macro lenses. The 5,000mAh battery should last you a day of moderate use, while OnePlus says the 50W fast charging support will top it up from a one-percent charge to 80 percent in 30 minutes. The OnePlus Nord N30 5G also has a 6.7-inch, 120Hz IPS display that's great for gaming.

On the downside, there's no IP rating for dust or water resistance. And while the handset runs on Oxygen OS 13.1 (which is based on Android 13), OnePlus has only committed to bringing one major Android update to the N30, along with three years of security support. That's a pity for those looking for something that'll stay up to date for a few years without breaking the bank, but that level of Android support is typical for budget phones.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/our-favorite-cheap-smartphone-is-on-sale-for-250-right-now-161336458.html?src=rss

Stability AI’s audio generator can now crank out 3 minute ‘songs’

Wed, 2024-04-03 12:06

Stability AI just unveiled Stable Audio 2.0, an upgraded version of its music-generation platform. This system lets users create up to three minutes of audio via text prompt. That’s around the length of an actual song, so it'll also whip up an intro, a full chord progression and an outro.

First, the good news. Three minutes is huge. The previous version of the software maxed out at 90 seconds. Just imagine the fake birthday song you could make in the style of that one Rob Thomas/Santana track. Another boon? The tool is free and publicly available through the company’s website, so have at it.

Introducing Stable Audio 2.0 – a new model capable of producing high-quality, full tracks with coherent musical structure up to three minutes long at 44.1 kHz stereo from a single prompt.

Explore the model and start creating for free at: https://t.co/E9ZIGagmPf

Read the… pic.twitter.com/rFGb0KpdeX

— Stability AI (@StabilityAI) April 3, 2024

It primarily works via text prompt, but there’s an option to upload an audio clip. The system will analyze the clip and produce something similar. All uploaded audio must be copyright-free, so this isn’t for the purposes of mimicking something that already exists. Rather, it could be useful for, say, humming a drum part or extending a 20 second clip into something longer.

Now, the bad news. This is still AI-generated music. It’s cool as a conversation piece and as an emblem of a possible future that’s great for tinkerers and bad for musicians, but that’s about it. The songs can actually sound nifty, at first, until the seams start showing. Then things get a bit creepy.

For instance, the system loves adding vocals, but not in any known human language. I guess it’s in whatever language that makes up the text in AI-generated images. The vocals sort of sound like actual people, and other times they sound Gregorian chanters filtered through outer space. It’s right smack dab in the middle of that uncanny valley. The Verge called the vocals “soulless and weird," comparing them to whale sounds. That tracks. 

Stable Audio 2.0 makes the same weird little mistakes that all of these systems make, no matter the output type. Parts can vanish into thin air, replaced with something else. Sometimes melodic elements will double out of nowhere, like an audio version of those extra fingers in AI-generated images.

Created this with the new Stable Audio 2.0 from @StabilityAI! pic.twitter.com/kmN0eubJSK

— Chris McKay (@cmcky) April 3, 2024

There’s also the, well, boring-ness of it all. This is music in name only. Without a human connection, what’s the point? I listen to music to get inside the head of another person or group of people. There’s no head to get inside of here, despite constant proclamations that artificial general intelligence (AGI) is only months away.

So, this tech is an absolute gift for those making silly birthday videos or bank hold music. For everyone else? Shrug. One thing I can say from personal experience: It’s pretty fast. The system concocted an absolutely terrifying big band song about my cat in around a minute. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/stability-ais-audio-generator-can-now-crank-out-3-minute-songs-160620135.html?src=rss

Hyundai's Ioniq 5 N eN1 Cup car brings extreme EV performance to the track

Wed, 2024-04-03 12:00

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 N is one of the most extreme EVs you can buy at the moment. With over 600 horsepower delivered to all four wheels, plus a plethora of drive modes that help you do everything from circuit racing to drifting, it's a truly wild ride.

But it's about to get even wilder. Meet the new Hyundai Ioniq 5 N eN1 Cup car. This is a lightweight, caged, and big-winged version of Hyundai's rocket ship, tuned to such an extreme level that it isn't even road legal. Yes, this one's strictly for racing, and Hyundai is launching a focused racing series for the 5 N later this year.

Ahead of that, I headed to Korea to take it for a drive on a closed track. Inje Speedium is a tricky circuit with lots of elevation changes, and despite some inclement weather the Ioniq 5 N eN1 proved to be a masterful drive. And, at $100,000, for a track-ready machine, it's surprisingly value-priced. Watch the video above for the full story.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/hyundais-ioniq-5-n-en1-cup-car-brings-extreme-ev-performance-to-the-track-160024376.html?src=rss

OnePlus rolls out its own version of Google's Magic Eraser

Wed, 2024-04-03 11:17

OnePlus is the latest company to hop on the AI train. The phone manufacturer is rolling out a new photo editing tool called AI Eraser, which lets users remove extraneous objects from their photos. The new feature will be available on a range of OnePlus smartphones, including the OnePlus 12 and 12R, OnePlus 11 and OnePlus Open.

To use the OnePlus AI Eraser, a person first has to highlight the parts of the image that need removing. These could be random people or a dirty trash can, but they can also be "imperfections" in the photo. Then, AI analyzes that area and creates a background that OnePlus claims will blend into the existing image. If it sounds familiar, it works basically the same as Adobe's Generative Fill and Google's Magic Eraser tools.  

However, this is a new venture for OnePlus, which uses its proprietary LLM to power the AI Eraser. "As OnePlus' first feature based on generative AI technology, AI Eraser represents the first step in our vision to liberate user creativity through AI and revolutionize the future of photo editing, empowering users to create remarkable photos with just a few touches," Kinder Liu, president and COO of OnePlus, said in a statement. "This year, we plan to introduce more AI features, and we look forward to their upcoming availability."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/oneplus-rolls-out-its-own-version-of-googles-magic-eraser-151731265.html?src=rss

Some Spotify plans are reportedly getting more expensive soon

Wed, 2024-04-03 10:30

Fish swim, birds fly and streaming services increase their prices. That’s (mostly) the way of things. After maintaining the same pricing for Premium for a long time, Spotify looks set to increase it twice within a year in some countries.

According to Bloomberg, Spotify Premium will be around $1 more for an individual plan and about $2 costlier for family and duo plans by the end of April in a few markets, including the UK, Australia and Pakistan. The report suggests the US is in line for a similar increase later this year.

The higher fees are expected to offset the costs of audiobook offerings. Since October, Premium users in select markets have been able to listen to 15 hours of audiobooks per month at no extra cost. The company is said to have seen strong levels of audiobook consumption so far.

If users go over the 15-hour limit, they can pay for a 10-hour top up. It’s there that Spotify makes more money from its Premium audiobook library. The company also sells audiobooks on its web store.

Spotify has been chasing profitability since it went public in 2018 and to help it get there, it’s said to be preparing several more subscription tiers. One of those (a more expensive option) will reportedly offer high-fidelity audio, a feature the company has long been promising.

It may also introduce a basic tier that includes ad-free music and podcasts, with audiobooks being cut out. This plan is expected to cost $11 per month, the same as Spotify currently charges for Premium. As such, that $10 audiobook-only plan Spotify introduced in the US last month is starting to make more sense.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/some-spotify-plans-are-reportedly-getting-more-expensive-soon-143013215.html?src=rss

Get the Meta Quest 2 for only $199 along with $50 Quest store credit

Wed, 2024-04-03 10:10

If you've yet to join the VR craze of the last few years, then now's a good time to do so. The 128GB Meta Quest 2 is currently available at Walmart for $199, down from $249 — a return to its record-low price. Not only is the sale enticing, but the deal comes with a $50 credit for the Meta Quest store. Amazon is offering the same 20 percent discount on the Meta Quest 2, but it doesn't include that extra credit. 

The Meta Quest 2 might not be the newest headset in its lineup, but it still has plenty of great features — and is our pick for 2024's best cheap VR headset. Plus, we gave it an 89 in our review back in 2020, when it was still called the Oculus Quest. 

The device is wireless, comfortable and much more affordable than the alternatives. Its field of vision is about 90 degrees and can change based on which face pads you use. The Meta Quest 2 also offers fast-switching LCDs, an 1832x1920 resolution and a 90Hz refresh rate. You can hook it up to your gaming PC or explore the many titles available on Meta's Quest store — especially with $50 to spend.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/get-the-meta-quest-2-for-only-199-along-with-50-quest-store-credit-141001515.html?src=rss

The best smartphone cameras for 2024: How to choose the phone with the best photography chops

Wed, 2024-04-03 09:00

I remember begging my parents to get me a phone with a camera when the earliest ones were launched. The idea of taking photos wherever I went was new and appealing, but it’s since become less of a novelty and more of a daily habit. Yes, I’m one of those. I take pictures of everything — from beautiful meals and funny signs to gorgeous landscapes and plumes of smoke billowing in the distance.

If you grew up in the Nokia 3310 era like me, then you know how far we’ve come. Gone are the 2-megapixel embarrassments that we used to post to Friendster with glee. Now, many of us use the cameras on our phones to not only capture precious memories of our adventures and loved ones, but also to share our lives with the world.

I’m lucky enough that I have access to multiple phones thanks to my job, and at times would carry a second device with me on a day-trip just because I preferred its cameras. But most people don’t have that luxury. Chances are, if you’re reading this, a phone’s cameras may be of utmost importance to you. But you’ll still want to make sure the device you end up getting doesn’t fall flat in other ways. At Engadget, we test and review dozens of smartphones every year; our top picks below represent not only the best phone cameras available right now, but also the most well-rounded options out there.

What to look for when choosing a phone for its cameras

Before scrutinizing a phone’s camera array, you’ll want to take stock of your needs — what are you using it for? If your needs are fairly simple, like taking photos and videos of your new baby or pet, most modern smartphones will serve you well. Those who plan to shoot for audiences on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube should look for video-optimizing features like stabilization and high frame rate support (for slow-motion clips).

Most smartphones today have at least two cameras on the rear and one up front. Those that cost more than $700 usually come with three, including wide-angle, telephoto or macro lenses. We’ve also reached a point where the number of megapixels (MP) doesn’t really matter anymore — most flagship phones from Apple, Samsung and Google have sensors that are either 48MP or 50MP. You’ll even come across some touting resolutions of 108MP or 200MP, in pro-level devices like the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Most people won’t need anything that sharp, and in general, smartphone makers combine the pixels to deliver pictures that are the equivalent of 12MP anyway. The benefits of pixel-binning are fairly minor in phone cameras, though, and you’ll usually need to blow up an image to fit a 27-inch monitor before you’ll see the slightest improvements.

In fact, smartphone cameras tend to be so limited in size that there’s often little room for variation across devices. They typically use sensors from the same manufacturers and have similar aperture sizes, lens lengths and fields of view. So while it might be worth considering the impact of sensor size on things like DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, on a smartphone those differences are minimal.

Sensor size and field of view

If you still want a bit of guidance on what to look for, here are some quick tips: By and large, the bigger the sensor the better, as this will allow more light and data to be captured. Not many phone makers will list the sensor size in spec lists, so you’ll have to dig around for this info. A larger aperture (usually indicated by a smaller number with an “f/” preceding a digit) is ideal for the same reason, and it also affects the level of depth of field (or background blur) that’s not added via software. Since portrait modes are available on most phones these days, though, a big aperture isn’t as necessary to achieve this effect.

When looking for a specific field of view on a wide-angle camera, know that the most common offering from companies like Samsung and Google is about 120 degrees. Finally, most premium phones like the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Galaxy S24 Ultra offer telephoto systems that go up to 5x optical zoom with software taking that to 20x or even 100x.

Processing and extra features

These features will likely perform at a similar quality across the board, and where you really see a difference is in the processing. Samsung traditionally renders pictures that are more saturated, while Google’s Pixel phones take photos that are more neutral and evenly exposed. iPhones have historically produced pictures with color profiles that seem more accurate, though in comparison to images from the other two, they can come off yellowish. However, that was mostly resolved after Apple introduced a feature in the iPhone 13 called Photographic Styles that lets you set a profile with customizable contrast levels and color temperature that would apply to every picture taken via the native camera app.

Pro users who want to manually edit their shots should see if the phone they’re considering can take images in RAW format. Those who want to shoot a lot of videos while on the move should look for stabilization features and a decent frame rate. Most of the phones we’ve tested at Engadget record at either 60 frames per second at 1080p or 30 fps at 4K. It’s worth checking to see what the front camera shoots at, too, since they’re not usually on par with their counterparts on the rear.

Finally, while the phone’s native editor is usually not a dealbreaker (since you can install a third-party app for better controls), it’s worth noting that the latest flagships from Samsung and Google all offer AI tools that make manipulating an image a lot easier. They also offer a lot of fun, useful extras, like erasing photobombers, moving objects around or making sure everyone in the shot has their eyes open.

How we test smartphone cameras

For the last few years, I’ve reviewed flagships from Google, Samsung and Apple, and each time, I do the same set of tests. I’m especially particular when testing their cameras, and usually take all the phones I’m comparing out on a day or weekend photo-taking trip. Any time I see a photo- or video-worthy moment, I whip out all the devices and record what I can, doing my best to keep all factors identical and maintain the same angle and framing across the board.

It isn’t always easy to perfectly replicate the shooting conditions for each camera, even if I have them out immediately after I put the last one away. Of course, having them on some sort of multi-mount rack would be the most scientific way, but that makes framing shots a lot harder and is not representative of most people’s real-world use. Also, just imagine me holding up a three-prong camera rack running after the poor panicked wildlife I’m trying to photograph. It’s just not practical.

For each device, I make sure to test all modes, like portrait, night and video, as well as all the lenses, including wide, telephoto and macro. When there are new or special features, I test them as well. Since different phone displays can affect how their pictures appear, I wanted to level the playing field: I upload all the material to Google Drive in full resolution so I can compare everything on the same large screen. Because the photos from today’s phones are of mostly the same quality, I usually have to zoom in very closely to see the differences. I also frequently get a coworker who’s a photo or video expert to look at the files and weigh in.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-camera-phone-130035025.html?src=rss

The Morning After: California introduces right to disconnect bill

Wed, 2024-04-03 07:15

Even with burnout, overwhelm, budget cuts, hiring freezes, waves of redundancies and everything else in 2024, there’s still little regulation in the US to stop employers tapping workers to respond to requests either at their desk or through their smartphones and laptops at home.

(Of course, France is showing us all up, having introduced a right-to-disconnect policy back in 2017. Those pesky, utterly correct French…)

This week, California State Assemblyman Matt Haney introduced AB 2751, a “right to disconnect” proposition. If passed, it would make every California employer lay out exactly what a person’s hours are and ensure they aren’t required to respond to work-related communications while off the clock. Time periods in which a salaried employee might have to work longer hours would need to be laid out in their contract.

“I do think it’s fitting that California, which has created many of these technologies, is also the state that introduces how we make it sustainable and update our protections for the times we live in and the world we’ve created,” Haney told The San Francisco Standard.

He’s not wrong: California is the birthplace of Gmail, the iPhone, although not Slack — watch out Vancouver, Canada.

— Mat Smith

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Form’s next-gen goggles make for a more comfortable swim Smart Swim 2 is smaller, lighter and more useful. TMAEngadget

Form launched its Smart Swim goggles in 2019. They featured a built-in display showing real-time data when you swim, and its successor, the Smart Swim 2, is a refinement in every way. Form has nipped and tucked the existing model, with the tech pack 15 percent smaller than its predecessor. It also worked on comfort and fit, giving the goggles longer, more adjustable straps and a broader range of swappable nose bridges.

Continue reading.

Amazon just walked out on its self-checkout technology The company is removing Just Walk Out from Fresh grocery stores in the US. TMAAmazon

Amazon is removing its much-trumpeted Just Walk Out tech from all of its US Fresh grocery stores. The self-checkout system used cameras, sensors and good old-fashioned human eyeballs to track what people leave the store with, charging the customers accordingly with no human needing to scan a thing.

One issue was the system didn’t use AI object detection and advanced smarts as much as Amazon would like you to believe. There are reportedly over 1,000 people in India scanning the camera feeds to ensure accurate checkouts.

Amazon tried to sell the technology to other retail chains, but its only major deal was with Starbucks in a few locations. These systems require high ceilings to accommodate the cameras and sensors. Reuters suggested many retailers consider Amazon a competitor and didn’t want its hooks in their systems. For now, the systems will continue in select UK stores.

Continue reading.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-california-introduces-right-to-disconnect-bill-111536502.html?src=rss

Apple's iPhone 12 can now charge wirelessly at 15W with non-MagSafe chargers

Wed, 2024-04-03 05:54

With the launch of the iPhone 12 Apple doubled wireless charging power to 15 watts, but there was a catch: only Apple-branded MagSafe chargers operated at full power. Now, users are getting a surprise update. The latest iOS 17.4 release now allows third-party Qi2 chargers to charge at the maximum rated 15 watts of power as well, MacWorld reported. 

Apple introduced Qi2 15 watt wireless charging support for the iPhone 13 and 14 with iOS 17.2, and the iPhone 15 supported the standard from the get-go. In fact, it's based on Apple's MagSafe technology, with Apple being a "steering member" and chair of the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) board of directors. 

When the iPhone 12 came along in October 2020, however, Qi2 didn't exist and the WPC's original Qi standard was limited to 7.5 watts. Since the iPhone 12 used MagSafe, it was apparently able to support Qi2 and its higher max charging capability. 

Apple has yet to officially comment on this change. However, Macworld tested the iPhone 12 with Qi2 devices and found that they match the charging speeds of official MagSafe chargers. 

Charger manufacturer Belkin also stated that its Qi2 chargers "are fully certified to deliver up to 15 watts of fast wireless charging to Qi2-enalbed devices," while referring any other questions to Apple. With the change, all MagSafe iPhones now support Qi2 charging.

Apple's move to support Qi2 with its iPhone lineup was a bit of a surprise, considering it tends to favor in-house proprietary solutions. It may have been done to fend off regulators, as the EU had already forced it to switch to USB-C charging to avoid wasteful multiple standards. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/apples-iphone-12-can-now-charge-wirelessly-at-15w-with-non-magsafe-chargers-095421869.html?src=rss

The best VPN service for 2024

Wed, 2024-04-03 05:00

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are notoriously difficult to work with. Maybe you’re a remote worker who has to sign in to one each day to access company services, or you tried it once because you heard you could use it to access international content, but were met with laggy service and frequent disruptions. Today’s VPNs don’t have to come with those headaches, and they can be a useful tool to help protect your online privacy. We tested nine of the most popular VPN services available now to come up with our top picks for the best VPN for 2024, and lay out what you should know before paying for one.

What is a VPN?

VPNs, or virtual private networks, mask your IP address and the identity of your computer or mobile device on the network and creating an encrypted "tunnel" that prevents your internet service provider (ISP) from accessing data about your browsing history. VPNs are not a one-size-fits-all security solution, though.

Instead, they’re just one part of keeping your data private and secure. Roya Ensafi, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, told Engadget that VPNs don’t protect against common threats like phishing attacks, nor do they protect your data from being stolen. Much of the data or information is stored with the VPN provider instead of your ISP, which means that using a poorly designed or unprotected network can still undermine your security. But they do come in handy for online privacy when you’re connecting to an untrusted network somewhere public because they tunnel and encrypt your traffic to the next hop.

That means sweeping claims that seem promising, like military-grade encryption or total digital invisibility, may not be totally accurate. Instead, Yael Grauer, program manager of Consumer Reports’ online security guide, recommends looking for security features like open-source software with reproducible builds, up-to-date support for industry-standard protocols like WireGuard (CR's preferred protocol) or IPsec, and the ability to defend against attack vectors like brute force.

Understand your VPN needs

Before considering a VPN, make sure your online security is up to date in other ways. That means complex passwords, multi-factor authentication methods and locking down your data sharing preferences. Even then, you probably don’t need to be using a VPN all the time.

“If you're just worried about somebody sitting there passively and looking at your data then a VPN is great,” Jed Crandall, an associate professor at Arizona State University, told Engadget.

If you use public WiFi networks a lot, like while working at a coffee shop, then VPN usage can help give you private internet access. They’re also helpful for hiding information from other people on your ISP if you don’t want members of your household to know what you’re up to online.

Geoblocking has also become a popular use case as it helps you reach services in other parts of the world. For example, you can access shows that are only available on streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, in other countries, or play online games with people located all over the globe.

Are VPNs worth it?

Whether or not VPNs are worth it depends how often you could use it for the above use cases. If you travel a lot and rely on public WiFi or hotspots, are looking to browse outside of your home country or want to keep your traffic hidden from your ISP, then investing in a VPN will be useful. But, keep in mind that even the best VPN services often slow down your internet connection speed, so they may not be ideal all the time.

In today's world, we recommend not relying on a VPN connection as your main cybersecurity tool. VPN use can provide a false sense of security, leaving you vulnerable to attack. Plus, if you choose just any VPN, it may not be as secure as just relying on your ISP. That’s because the VPN could be based in a country with weaker data privacy regulation, obligated to hand information over to law enforcement or linked to weak user data protection policies.

For VPN users working in professions like activism or journalism that want to really strengthen their internet security, options like the Tor browser may be a worthwhile alternative, according to Crandall. Tor is free, and while it's less user-friendly, it’s built for anonymity and privacy.

How we tested

To test the security specs of different VPNs and name our top picks, we relied on pre-existing academic work through Consumer Reports, VPNalyzer and other sources. We referenced privacy policies, transparency reports and security audits made available to the public. We also considered past security incidents like data breaches.

We looked at price, usage limits, effects on internet speed, possible use cases, ease of use, general functionality and additional “extra” VPN features like multihop. The VPNs were tested across iOS, Android and Mac devices so we could see the state of the mobile apps across various platforms (Windows devices are also supported in most cases). We used the “quick connect” feature on the VPN apps to connect to the “fastest” provider available when testing internet speed, access to IP address data and DNS and WebRTC leaks or when a fault in the encrypted tunnel reveals requests to an ISP.

Otherwise, we conducted a test of geoblocking content by accessing Canada-exclusive Netflix releases, a streaming test by watching a news livestream on YouTube via a Hong Kong-based VPN and a gaming test by playing on servers in the United Kingdom. By performing these tests at the same time, it also allowed us to test claims about simultaneous device use. Here are the VPN services we tested:

Read more: The best password managers for 2023

Other VPN services our experts tested NordVPN

NordVPN didn’t quite make the cut because it’s overhyped, and underwhelming. As I've written in our full review of NordVPN, the pricing, up to $14.49 for a “complete” subscription, seemed high compared to other services, and its free or lower cost plans just didn’t have the same wide variety of features as its competitors. 

TunnelBear

Despite the cute graphics and user friendliness, TunnelBear wasn’t a top choice. It failed numerous basic security tests from Consumer Reports, and had limited availability across platforms like Linux. It did, however, get a major security boost in July when it updated to support WireGuard protocol across more of its platforms.

Bitdefender VPN

Bitdefender doesn’t offer support for devices like routers, which limits its cross-platform accessibility. It also lacked a transparency report or third-party audit to confirm security specs.

Atlas VPN

Atlas ranked lower on our speed tests compared to the other VPNs tested, with a notably slower difference on web browsing and streaming tests. It was a good option otherwise, but could easily cause headaches for those chasing high speed connections. Security-wise, an Atlas VPN vulnerability leaked Linux users’ real IP addresses.

FAQs What are some things VPNs are used for?

VPNs are traditionally used to protect your internet traffic. If you’re connected to an untrusted network like public WiFi in a cafe, using a VPN hides what you do from the internet service provider. Then, the owner of the WiFi or hackers trying to get into the system can’t see the identity of your computer or your browsing history.

A common non-textbook use case for VPNs has been accessing geographically restricted content. VPNs can mask your location, so even if you’re based in the United States, they can make it appear as if you’re browsing abroad and unblock access. This is especially useful for streaming content that’s often limited to certain countries, like if you want to watch Canadian Netflix from the US.

What information does a VPN hide?

A VPN doesn’t hide all of your data. It only hides information like your IP address, location and browser history. A common misconception is that VPNs can make you totally invisible online. But keep in mind that the VPN provider often still has access to all of this information, so it doesn’t grant you total anonymity. You’re also still vulnerable to phishing attacks, hacking and other cyberthreats that you should be mindful of by implementing strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.

Are VPNs safe?

Generally, yes. VPNs are a safe and reliable way to encrypt and protect your internet data. But like most online services, the safety specifics vary from provider to provider. You can use resources like third-party audits, Consumer Reports reviews, transparency reports and privacy policies to understand the specifics of your chosen provider.

What about Google’s One VPN?

As of early 2023, Google One subscriptions include access to the company’s VPN. It works similarly to other VPNs on our list, hiding your online activity from network operators. Google One subscribers can access the VPN in 22 countries on Android, iOS, Windows and Mac devices, and they can share VPN access with up to five people who are on their One plans. We have not fully tested the Google One VPN yet, but we will add it to this list if we feel it is.

Update November 10, 2023: This story was updated after publishing to remove mention of PPTP, a protocol that Consumer Reports' Yael Grauer notes "has serious security flaws."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-vpn-130004396.html?src=rss

George Carlin's estate settles lawsuit against podcasters' AI comedy special

Wed, 2024-04-03 03:52

There will be no follow-up to that AI-generated George Carlin comedy special released by the podcast Dudesy. In January, Carlin's estate filed a lawsuit against the podcast and its creators Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen, accusing them of violating the performer's right to publicity and infringing on a copyright. Now, the two sides have reached a settlement agreement, which includes the permanent removal of the comedy special from Dudesy's archive. Sasso and Kultgen have also agreed never to repost it on any platform and never to use Carlin's image, voice or likeness without approval from the estate again, according to The New York Times

The AI algorithm that Dudesy used for the special was trained on thousands of hours of Carlin's routines that spanned decades of his career. It generated enough material for an hour-long special, but it did a pretty poor impression of the late comedian with basic punchlines and very little of what characterized Carlin's humor. In a statement, Carlin's daughter Kelly called it a "poorly-executed facsimile cobbled together by unscrupulous individuals."

Josh Schiller, who represented the Carlin estate in court, told The Times that "[t]he world has begun to appreciate the power and potential dangers inherent in AI tools, which can mimic voices, generate fake photographs and alter video." He added that it's "not a problem that will go away by itself" and that it "must be confronted with swift, forceful action in the courts." The companies making AI software "must also bear some measure of accountability," the lawyer said. 

This lawsuit is just one of the many filed by creatives against AI companies and the people that use the technology by training algorithms on someone's work. Several non-fiction authors and novelists that include George R.R. Martin, John Grisham and Jodi Picoult sued OpenAI for using their work to train its large language models. The New York Times and a handful of other news organizations also sued the company for using their articles for training and for allegedly reproducing their content word-for-word without attribution. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/george-carlins-estate-settles-lawsuit-against-podcasters-ai-comedy-special-075224304.html?src=rss

X names its third head of safety in less than two years

Tue, 2024-04-02 17:30

X has named a new head of safety nearly a year after the last executive in the position resigned. The company said Tuesday that it had promoted Kylie McRoberts to Head of Safety and hired Yale Cohen as Head of Brand Safety and Advertiser Solutions.

The two will have the unenviable task of leading X’s safety efforts, including its attempts to reassure advertisers that the platform doesn’t monetize hate speech or terrorist content. The company said earlier this year it planned to hire 100 new safety employees after previously cutting much of its safety staff.

Head of safety has been a particularly fraught position since Elon Musk took over the company previously known as Twitter. Musk has previously clashed with his safety leads and McRoberts is the third person to hold the title in less than two years. Previously, Yoel Roth resigned shortly after the disastrous rollout of Twitter Blue in 2022. Roth was replaced by Ella Irwin, who resigned last year after Musk publicly criticized employees for enforcing policies around misgendering.

Not much is known about McRoberts, but she is apparently an existing member of X’s safety team (her X account is currently private and a LinkedIn profile appears to have been recently deleted). “During her time at X, she has led initiatives to increase transparency in our moderation practices through labels, improve security with passkeys, as well as building out our new Safety Center of Excellence in Austin,” X said in a statement.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/x-names-its-third-head-of-safety-in-less-than-two-years-213004771.html?src=rss

England’s NHS will provide artificial pancreas to thousands of diabetes patients

Tue, 2024-04-02 16:32

England’s National Health Service (NHS) said on Tuesday that “tens of thousands of children and adults” with type 1 diabetes will receive an “artificial pancreas” to help manage their insulin levels. The hybrid closed loop system — a sensor under the skin that sends wireless readings to an externally worn pump, which delivers insulin as needed — can help patients avoid the risks of type 1 diabetes without worrying about finger sticks or injections.

This isn’t the first device of its kind. Tandem makes similar insulin pumps in the US after it received FDA authorization in 2019. Gizmodo notes that another company called iLet got FDA approval for a similar device last year. Although the NHS hasn’t said which specific device(s) its program will use, what’s different here is the nation’s publicly funded health care system providing them for free rather than as an exclusive privilege for the well-to-do. (Sigh.)

The hybrid closed loop system starts with a sensor implanted beneath the skin, which continually monitors glucose levels at regular intervals. The sensor sends that data wirelessly to a pump, worn externally, which delivers the proper insulin dosage. The “hybrid” part of its name comes from the fact that some user input, including entering carb intake, is still required in the otherwise self-regulating system.

The government agency gave an ultra-precise figure of 269,095 people in England living with type 1 diabetes, highlighting how many folks could potentially benefit from the rollout. The NHS says local branches will begin identifying patients for the program starting on Tuesday.

“Diabetes is a tough and relentless condition, but these systems make a significant, life-changing difference — improving both the overall health and quality of life for people with diabetes,” Colette Marshall, chief executive of Diabetes UK, wrote in the NHS’s press release announcing the rollout. “This really is a landmark moment and we’ll be working with the NHS and others to ensure a fair rollout that reaches people as quickly as possible.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/englands-nhs-will-provide-artificial-pancreas-to-thousands-of-diabetes-patients-203236067.html?src=rss

Amazon just walked out on its self-checkout technology

Tue, 2024-04-02 15:17

Amazon is removing Just Walk Out tech from all of its Fresh grocery stores in the US, as reported by The Information. The self-checkout system relies on a host of cameras, sensors and good old-fashioned human eyeballs to track what people leave the store with, charging the customers accordingly.

The technology has been plagued by issues from the onset. Most notably, Just Walk Out merely presents the illusion of automation, with Amazon crowing about generative AI and the like. Here’s where the smoke and mirrors come in. While the stores have no actual cashiers, there are reportedly over 1,000 real people in India scanning the camera feeds to ensure accurate checkouts. 

It’s also incredibly expensive to install and maintain the necessary equipment, which is likely why Just Walk Out technology was only adopted at around half of Fresh stores in the US. There have been plenty of frustrating issues for consumers when using this system, from receipts being sent out hours after purchase to completely mismanaged orders. In other words, it took a vast array of sensitive equipment and 1,000 people staring at video feeds to do the job of one or two people sitting behind cash registers at each store. Ain’t modern innovation grand?

There’s also some major privacy concerns here. Remember those cameras and sensors? They are constantly collecting biometric information as people shop. This goes beyond Amazon’s palm-scanning technology, as the cameras and sensors measure the shape and size of each customer’s body for identification and tracking purposes. This led to a class action suit in New York that accused the company of collecting biometric identifier information without properly disclosing the practices to consumers.

The suit says that Amazon ran afoul of the state’s Biometric Identifier Information Law, which requires businesses to tell customers if they are collecting data used for identification purposes. Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told The Seattle Times that “Amazon owes its customers an explanation about how it’s operating these systems before people enter — so that people can decide for themselves whether they want to provide measurements of the size and shape of their body as a condition of getting a sandwich.”

Amazon tried to sell the technology to other retail chains, but didn’t get too many bites. It teamed up with Starbucks in a few locations and there was a small launch in hospitals for medical staff, but that’s about it. One sticking point? These systems require high ceilings to accommodate the cameras and sensors. Reuters also suggested that many retailers consider Amazon a competitor and disruptor, souring them on a technology partnership. Those 1,000 off-shore cashiers probably didn’t help with the sales pitch either.

Just Walk Out technology will continue to be offered in select stores in the UK. As for the US, Amazon says the removal of these systems is part of a larger effort to revamp its retail grocery arm. The company plans on bringing its Dash smart carts to retail locations, after a test at several Whole Foods and Fresh stores. These smart carts are equipped with scales and sensors to track spending in real time and, of course, allow consumers to skip the checkout.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/amazon-just-walked-out-on-its-self-checkout-technology-191703603.html?src=rss

Spotify's subscriber audiobook credit is coming to Canada and other countries next week

Tue, 2024-04-02 14:24

Spotify Premium users in Canada, Ireland and New Zealand will have access to 15 hours of monthly audiobook listening at no extra cost starting on April 9. Subscribers in the US, UK and Australia have had access to this perk for several months.

The Premium audiobook catalog now includes more than 250,000 titles. That's a notable increase from the 200,000 audiobooks that were in the library as of late 2023. So when you could use a change from the millions of songs and podcasts on Spotify, you'll have a ton of books to choose from.

Those who hit the 15-hour limit can add more audiobook listening time in 10-hour top ups. In the new markets, the extra listening time costs CAD $14.99, IRE €12.99 or NZD $19.99, per TechCrunch.

Since last month, Spotify has offered an audiobook-only subscription plan in the US. At $10, it's $1 per month less than Spotify Premium for the same 15 hours of audiobook listening time. Still, depending on the lengths of books that you listen to, this plan might prove better value than Audible, which grants you one audiobook credit per month for $15. That said, unused audiobook listening time on Spotify doesn't carry over to the next month.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/spotifys-free-audiobook-credit-is-coming-to-canada-and-other-countries-next-week-182444456.html?src=rss

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