JD Lasica https://www.jdlasica.com Author JD Lasica's website Wed, 23 Sep 2020 21:03:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://www.jdlasica.com/wp-content/uploads/1987/10/cropped-JD2-32x32.png JD Lasica https://www.jdlasica.com 32 32 Why cybersecurity should be front of mind for journalists https://www.jdlasica.com/journalism/why-cybersecurity-should-be-front-of-mind-for-journalists/ https://www.jdlasica.com/journalism/why-cybersecurity-should-be-front-of-mind-for-journalists/#respond Tue, 02 Jun 2020 08:53:37 +0000 https://www.jdlasica.com/?p=13404 Post by Jack Warner TechWarn While anyone who conducts any kind of digital activity is at risk of a security breach or cyber attack, journalists are especially vulnerable to surveillance and hacking by malign actors. The communications and data kept on the devices of those reporting the news is of particular interest to government agencies, […]

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media

Post by Jack Warner
TechWarn

While anyone who conducts any kind of digital activity is at risk of a security breach or cyber attack, journalists are especially vulnerable to surveillance and hacking by malign actors. The communications and data kept on the devices of those reporting the news is of particular interest to government agencies, large corporations, small businesses and many different kinds of organizations.

When journalists concern themselves with cybersecurity and take defensive measures, they not only protect their own personal data and that of their news organization but also they also strike a blow for the independence and integrity of the press. In some cases, data protection is even more significant, rising to a critical safety issue.

Why journalists need to prioritize cybersecurity

Journalists should think of digital cybersecurity as equally important as reporting on current events with integrity and passion. In particular, reporters working on investigative stories or exposes are at risk, and data can become a matter of life and death.

Last month, the exiled Pakistani journalist Sajid Hussein was found dead in Sweden. His case highlights the risk to reporters who undermine hostile regimes. The very nature of the job puts journalists at the forefront of unending scrutiny and surveillance. Such cases are becoming all too common.

Take the tragic tale of Italian student Giulio Regeni, who was conducting research on the controversial topic of independent trade unions in Cairo, Egypt. Regeni was abducted and subsequently tortured to death in early 2016. Many commentators believe Egyptian security services were involved in his death.

Regeni’s physical security was at stake, as many journalists experience on a daily basis. Unprotected data can compound the risk to physical safety — especially as certain governments and other organizations seek to silence reporters.

Sources must be protected as a fundamental principle

Many journalists keep a long list of anonymous sources and relationships with people in the know. The onus is always on the journalist to protect the identity of their sources, both in regard to ethics and legality. Sources have a certain level of trust in the journalists they maintain contact with and if this trust is broken, the journalist’s integrity is compromised.

Regaining the trust of anonymous leads becomes harder and the reporter may struggle to rebuild his or her reputation. Protecting sources and the information they provide is key.

security

Technological advancements open new avenues for threats

The potential for cybersecurity threats evolves with every new technology that hits the market. Often before the user can learn how to protect themselves, hackers have already figured out various methods of undermining the newly launched technology. Hackers, both individual actors and the state-sponsored variety, are increasingly aware of potential access points.

Journalists need to be aware of the risks and vulnerabilities that come with each app, program, or device they use and take steps to mitigate the risk of a breach.

Tools journalists can use to secure devices

By taking several small yet highly effective steps, journalists can minimize their vulnerability and protect their digital security.

Anonymize and encrypt internet traffic with a VPN

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a powerful tool that anonymizes Internet activity by disguising device location and protecting data from unsecured or potentially dangerous Wi-Fi networks.

A VPN also allows access to websites that may be restricted in certain regions, so users can bypass strict censoring regulations in many areas. For example, a journalist reporting on a crisis in a country where the government censors content that doesn’t align with their political agenda can freely gain access to websites and streaming media with a VPN installed.

VPN software can be used on desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile devices. Many VPN providers allow multiple downloads across all devices with one single subscription.

Delete metadata, navigation history and cookies

Hackers know how to find an incredible amount of information about anything and anyone on their devices, including someone’s career and what stories they’re currently working on.

Sensitive details that can help cybercriminals can lay hidden in a user’s metadata, navigation history and cookies. These details should be deleted thoroughly and regularly to mitigate the risk of a leak or breach. Start practicing clearing these items from your browser as a matter of course.

Be aware of IoT devices

Internet of Things (IoT) devices record information around us all the time. The most common offender is a commonplace smart home technology such as Alexa, but devices as diverse as fridges, baby monitors and home security cameras can all represent a security risk.

Should you need to hold a classified discussion or make a sensitive phone call, a thorough walkthrough of the area can catch any IoT devices that can eavesdrop on confidential conversations.

Create secure backups

Using a cloud storage system and/or external hard drive is invaluable in preserving your work. As cloud storage technology improves, this is the best option in terms of cost, security and access — but a hard drive can also prove useful, so long as the user can keep it secure (that is, physically locked up).

Enable private browsing

The only browsers that should be used are those that allow browsing in private mode, especially when the purpose is to dig for controversial information. When private browsing is enabled, any information that could be pulled from the activity will not be saved by the browser to the current computer or device when the window is closed. This includes cookies, browsing history and details entered into form fields. Again, a good habit to pick up and maintain.

Use data encryption and strong passwords

Rather than trying to protect data file by file, a journalist is far safer when his entire machine or user account is encrypted. This encryption should be secured with a strong password that is unique and not easily determined by a hacker running a dictionary attack.

PIN numbers and passwords for all accounts should be all individually unique and difficult to crack. Journalists should take advantage of secure password managers that help keep track of log-ins and passwords across the board. These can only be accessed by another unique and secure, master password.

Journalists taking all of the above-listed security measures to protect themselves and their sensitive data are better positioned than those who view cybersecurity as an afterthought. Journalism is an important industry and although it comes with a distinctive set of risks, the world is a better and more informed place because of the critical work produced by unrelenting reporters.

Jack Warner (a pseudonym) is an accomplished cybersecurity expert with years of experience under his belt at TechWarn, a digital agency to world-class cybersecurity companies. Warner frequently contributes to tech blogs and shares his expert insights on cybersecurity and privacy tools.

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Infographic: The intriguing ways AIs show humanity in movies https://www.jdlasica.com/artificial-intelligence/infographic-the-intriguing-ways-ais-show-humanity-in-movies/ https://www.jdlasica.com/artificial-intelligence/infographic-the-intriguing-ways-ais-show-humanity-in-movies/#respond Mon, 27 Jan 2020 11:05:51 +0000 https://www.jdlasica.com/?p=13355 We’ve completed a study of the top artificial intelligences in film and came away with a new appreciation of how screenwrites are depicting this emerging technology. Here's our ranking of AIs' appearances on the silver screen and what kind of statement each movie makes about our humanity.

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A scene from the climax of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Post by Nelson Cicchitto

Nowadays you can find AI in all sorts of movies. Whether you like action-adventure, sci-fi or even romantic comedies, artificial intelligences show up in these genres and play fascinating roles.

We’ve completed a study of the top AIs in film and came away with a new appreciation of how screenwrites are depicting this emerging technology. One of the most interesting things about AI is that their inherent nonhuman nature showcases what movie writers most believe to be true about humans.

Here’s our ranking of AIs’ appearances on the silver screen and what kind of statement the movie makes about our humanity. And below is our infographic rounding up the evil and good depictions of AI characters in the movies, from R2D2 and Data to Skynet.

HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) – A deadly dose of humanity

Some individuals see HAL 9000 as one of the most quintessential evil AI. But what’s more interesting than its moral choices was HAL’s uncanny humanity. The humans in “2001: A Space Odyssey” act eerily calm and nonplussed. However, HAL 9000 exhibits humanlike traits such as jealousy and paranoia, which ultimately lead to the mission’s failure and astronauts’ deaths.

ex machina
Ava in “Ex Machina”: A happy ending for the AI.

Ava (Ex Machina) – Making difficult choices

“Ex Machina” has only four characters: three humans and one AI. By the end of the movie, only Ava, the AI, makes it out alive. However, she does this by manipulating two of the humans and even leaving one of them for dead. If this was truly the only way for her to be free and live an uninhibited life, does it still make her evil? When it’s an AI asking the question, the answer sometimes seems a little more uncertain.

VIKI (I, Robot) – Logical but heartless

Following in the steps of HAL 9000, VIKI is a hyperintelligent robotic core that decides to kill certain humans to try and keep humanity alive for longer. This is a classic moral dilemma: Is it all right to kill someone, even an innocent person, if by killing them you make the world a better place? Plenty of human characters could benefit from the same hard thinking.

Ranking AI in Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Buggy
Ranking AI in Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Buggy Created By: Avatier.com

R2-D2 (Star Wars) – Saying a lot without words

R2-D2 is one of the most beloved and iconic “Star Wars” characters in the entire franchise. But on the surface, the robot’s popularity is somewhat baffling. After all, it never utters a single line of dialogue, and its character design isn’t even humanoid. Why, then, is it such a beloved part of the franchise? Quite simply, R2-D2 oozes with charm and empathy. George Lucas didn’t have to create a character with snappy dialogue or a cool design — he just had to make one that tugged at people’s heartstrings.

Bender (Futurama) – Unlikeable likeability

OK, Bender is on TV, not from the movies. Still, there are all sorts of mixed-morality human characters on TV. Bender is very much one of those characters, except for the fact that he’s a robot. He’s rude, womanizing, mean and manipulative, but in some moments, he does seem to show genuine emotion. In fact, many of his negative traits are the reasons why audiences like him so much. With such a rich, humanlike character, does it even matter that he’s not really a human?

Conclusion

Every piece of a story showcases something about the screenwriters who wrote it. Next time you encounter an AI on screen, consider the story behind the story: Look at the tale on a meta level and learn from it rather than just watching it passively. Think about what the character represents and the message it’s sending rather than just the surface-level actions depicted on screen.

Who’s your favorite AI character from the movies, and why?

Nelson Cicchitto is CEO of Avatier Corp., a cloud identity management provider. He’s also an avid movie fan.

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6 things indie authors should know about audiobooks https://www.jdlasica.com/books/what-indie-authors-should-know-about-audiobooks/ https://www.jdlasica.com/books/what-indie-authors-should-know-about-audiobooks/#respond Mon, 15 Jul 2019 07:49:31 +0000 http://www.jdlasica.com/?p=13278 If you’re an indie author, you may be deliberating whether to take the plunge into publishing an audiobook. The reasons to forge ahead are many. Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment in the publishing industry, showing a 37.1% increase in sales last year, while ebook sales have largely plateaued the past couple of years. INDIE AUTHORS […]

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If you’re an indie author, you may be deliberating whether to take the plunge into publishing an audiobook. The reasons to forge ahead are many. Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment in the publishing industry, showing a 37.1% increase in sales last year, while ebook sales have largely plateaued the past couple of years.

INDIE AUTHORS

Tips on the self-publishing journey

But there are drawbacks — chiefly, the amount of time, effort and sometimes money it takes to produce a solid recording.

The last time I checked, only about one in 10 indie authors bothers to go through the trouble of producing an audiobook to accompany a new book release. That’s bound to change. More than 67 million Americans now listen to audiobooks each year. Given current trends — particularly consumers’ lifestyle habits, with books consumed on the go and in bits and snatches — some experts predict audbook sales will overtake ebook sales in a few years.


Here’s a 4-minute sample from “Catch and Kill.” Go to the book’s page on Audible.

With that in mind, here are some things I’ve learned along the way now that I have two audiobooks under my belt. We can boil down the audiobook publishing process into these six steps.

Step 1: Get an audiobook version of your cover made

1When I started out, I was befuddled by ACX’s requirement that I upload a square cover for my audiobook. What? Book covers aren’t square! It took a bit of reverse-engineering to turn a traditional book cover into a 2,400 by 2,400-pixel image.

With book two, I paid the design house a little extra for an additional file for the audiobook version. So it pays to work this out with your designer in advance, since you don’t want to be fooling with cover dimensions at the last minute.

Step 2: Choose a platform to create your audiobook

2For ease of creating your audiobook, ACX rules the roost. ACX, Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange, is the easiest way to go for most indie authors. By using it, your book will be for sale on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. That said, ACX is not as drop-dead simple as it should be.

ACX is a sort of marketplace where authors and rights holders can collaborate with narrators and producers to, in effect, self-publish audiobooks. Chances are, this is where you’ll find your narrator if you decide to go that route.

During the production process, you’ll be creating separate audio files for each chapter in your book, as well as front and back matter such as opening and closing credits, any dedication, epigraph and so on. ACX is picky about how each chapter sounds (including things like sound levels and ambient noise), so this should ideally be done in a production studio environment — or a quiet home office.

The author typically acts as a sort of producer-in-chief, so once you’ve completed Step 2 below and have the finished files in hand, you upload them one .mp3 file at a time to the ACX site via a Web interface. Once the staff at ACX reviews the quality, they either greenlight the title or kick it back to you for some tweaks. That’s what happened to us with my first audiobook, and narrator Denise Howell happily made the fixes. The review process took two weeks for my first audiobook and one week for book two, which is why you shouldn’t expect to have your audiobook ready for your book’s launch day.

I wrote about the ACX production process and showed off some screenshots in this post last year. The article also covers Whispersync, Amazon’s coolio technology that lets you read on your phone or device at breakfast, then get in your car and continue listening where you left off, and when you get home, cook dinner while listening on your Echo, all without losing your place.

 

Some of the books narrated by Tom Taverna.
Some of the books narrated by Tom Taverna.

Step 3: Choose a narrator

3After you’ve written your masterwork, your most important decision comes down to who’s going to narrate the script. To save on costs, many authors choose to do it themselves, and if you have honey-coated pipes, time to spare and the right recording equipment (including a good desktop microphone), then go for it!

microphone
A professional desktop microphone.
(Image via Pixabay)

I went in a different direction. After all, in fiction a voice actor can lend extra depth to a manuscript through a range of voice ages, accents, dialects and genders — something that few authors can pull off.

If you hire a professional, your costs will depend on the length of your book and the hourly rate of your narrator. In my case, for book one I prevailed upon an old friend, Denise Howell, who knows a lot about audio production, given that she’s been hosting the This Week in Law podcast for years. Denise and I came to a financial arrangement where I paid her a lump sum for her narration work, so I’m out of pocket that sum but retain the rights to all royalties going forward (see Step 3), less ACX’s take.

For book two, I decided, like a good startup founder, to do some A-B testing. So I chose a male narrator after reviewing several narrators’ short audio auditions on ACX. You can request sample narrations of one of your chapters, and a half dozen people applied. You get to hear how your work sounds when read by somebody else. In my case, I thought the Audible narrations by Tom Taverna were a good fit for a thriller. We collaborated through ACX and over email exchanges. We agreed to split the royalties, so I paid no production costs. Audible gets 60% share of sales, while Tom and I each get 20% of the royalties. Audible sets its own prices, and you’ll get more from the sale of an audiobook than an ebook.

I’ll know in a year or two which approach — flat payment vs. royalty split — was the better option.

Step 4: Give your book a ‘proof-listen’

4You know how valuable beta readers and/or proofreaders are before publishing your manuscript? The same principle applies to your audiobook. Alas, even though you’re offloading the work of narrating the book, you’ll still need to listen to every spoken word of it. As your narrator records chapters, or perhaps all at once, she’ll send you the completed chapters in the ACX dashboard for you to approve. You’ll want to listen and make detailed notes. Did she mispronounce the name of a character or city? Did she skip over a sentence? This is your chance to “proof-listen” to your audio samples. Both of my books were 11 hours in length, plus it took time to run through two rounds of fixes, so you’ll need to set aside a full day or two.

 

Audible tends to promote traditional authors, but indie authors can get discovered there, too.
Audible tends to promote traditional authors, but indie authors can get discovered there, too.

Step 5: Choose a distribution platform/retail store

5When self-publishing for the first time, every indie author needs to decide whether to go wide or choose Kindle Direct Publishing as well as its KDP Select option, which scores you access to Amazon’s millions of subscribers to Kindle Unlimited. I published both my thrillers, Biohack and Catch and Kill, in Kindle Unlimited (which costs subscribers $9.99 a month).

And now we see the same bifurcation occur in the audiobook world. Audible, owned by Amazon, is the big kahuna of the space, with tons of subscribers paying $14.95 a month for access to its catalog of audiobooks. Unlike the all-you-can-eat buffet of Kindle Unlimited, Audible subscribers are given a credit for one audiobook a month, and you own all Audible audiobooks in your library even if you cancel your subscription, plus you get access to two of six Audible Originals on the first Friday of every month for no additional cost. For authors, if you choose to go with ACX in Step 2, then Audible in Step 5 is part of the bargain.

For those who choose another route, you can opt for a service such as Findaway Voices (in partnership with Draft2DigitalAuthor’s Republic or other small platforms, which generally let authors set their own prices and distribute their audiobooks across multiple retail channels. One additional downside of using the ACX-Audible duopoly: Your audiobook won’t be available to library listeners.

headset and tablet
Image via Unsplash

Step 6: Spread the word

6Once you’re live on retail sites like Audible and iTunes, it’s time to spread the word! If you’re already past your book launch, do you need to create another marketing campaign all over again? Probably not. But you should try to get the audiobook into the hands of audiobook lovers in your genre. Start by claiming the 50 free promo codes that ACX provides you — 25 for U.S. Audible listeners and 25 for U.K. residents.

Next, you’ll need some initial reviews, so go ahead and pony up $12 to take advantage of the mailing list built up by Audiobook Boom!. They’ll circulate your title in their weekly newsletter, and within a couple of days you’ll likely have more than 50 names and email addresses in your Audiobook Boom spreadsheet waiting for you to contact them. For instance, they have 2,600 subscribers signed up for mysteries, 2,500 for thrillers and 1,500 for romance. In return for listening to your audiobook for free, they agree to post a review. (Note that none of your Amazon reviews carry over to your Audible book page.) Importantly, these folks are not just freebie-seekers; you get to check out the audiobook reviews they’ve left for other titles on Audible.

Ready to enter the audiobook world?

No doubt about it, audiobooks are here to stay. And here’s one final interesting trend: Thirty percent of frequent audiobook listeners report using their voice-enabled personal digital assitant, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, to read an audiobook out loud.

So should you take the plunge or not? Written Word Media advises: “Producing an audiobook runs into the thousands of dollars or requires giving up significant royalties and is still a significant investment for authors. New authors who find the price tag too steep are best off focusing on building their catalog of ebooks first. Authors who are looking to invest in their publishing business should definitely have audiobook expansion on their list.”

Smart advice.

Questions? Have your own advice to share? Leave a comment below.

In our Indie Authors series

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Audiobook giveaway: 50 chances to win a new thriller! https://www.jdlasica.com/books/audiobook-giveaway-50-chances-to-win-a-new-thriller/ https://www.jdlasica.com/books/audiobook-giveaway-50-chances-to-win-a-new-thriller/#comments Fri, 12 Jul 2019 00:23:18 +0000 http://www.jdlasica.com/?p=13261 Don’t you just love audiobooks? There’s nothing like them to take the tedium out of commuting, long walks or exercising at the gym. So I’m jazzed to tell you about the new audio release of my five-star high-tech thriller, Catch and Kill, narrated by baritone-voiced Tom Taverna. To celebrate, I’ve organized a giveaway of 50 […]

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Don’t you just love audiobooks? There’s nothing like them to take the tedium out of commuting, long walks or exercising at the gym. So I’m jazzed to tell you about the new audio release of my five-star high-tech thriller, Catch and Kill, narrated by baritone-voiced Tom Taverna.

To celebrate, I’ve organized a giveaway of 50 audiobooks — 25 U.S. and 25 U.K. Audible copies.

To enter, just answer the question below, then enter your first name and email. That will subscribe you to my Best of Indie Readers’ Circle newsletter with twice-a-month updates about the best free and low-cost ebooks in the Kindle Store. Winners announced Sunday, July 21.

I’m grateful for all my readers’ support and this is just one of the ways I can thank you!

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What will your personal AI look like? https://www.jdlasica.com/artificial-intelligence/what-will-your-personal-ai-look-like/ https://www.jdlasica.com/artificial-intelligence/what-will-your-personal-ai-look-like/#respond Fri, 31 May 2019 07:43:24 +0000 http://www.jdlasica.com/?p=13242 We’ve arrived at another moment of cultural assimilation — the point at which a new concept or technology becomes absorbed into the social fabric as something that’s new and interesting and soon to be taken for granted. I remember when I started talking about social media after I co-founded the social media platform Ourmedia in 2005. Almost nobody […]

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We’ve arrived at another moment of cultural assimilation — the point at which a new concept or technology becomes absorbed into the social fabric as something that’s new and interesting and soon to be taken for granted.

I remember when I started talking about social media after I co-founded the social media platform Ourmedia in 2005. Almost nobody had heard of the term “social media” back then. By 2007, social media had started gaining widespread uptake, and by 2008, you’d hear occasional references to the phrase on television newscasts and in prime time. Today it’s become a tired catch phrase on the cable news shows.

Mobile, smartphones, virtual reality — each term underwent its own quick adoption curve in recent years, joining the national lexicon and our common tongue.

Now we’ve reached that point with artificial intelligence. Toss out the term “AI” a couple of years ago and people might wonder if you were talking about an action item, artificial insemination or American Idol.

No longer. AI has powered its way into the popular consciousness, partly on the strength of countless news reports about the coming jobs apocalypse, partly because of pop culture references, and partly due to those ubiquitous IBM Watson commercials.

IBM Watson appeared on Jeopardy in 2011, winning the first place prize of $1 million.
IBM Watson appeared on Jeopardy in 2011, winning the first place prize of $1 million.

AI has morphed from the stuff of science fiction (2001, Terminator, Ex-Machinima) to the here and now. AIs are kicking the asses of the world’s top human players in chess, Go and Jeopardy. But they come in peace, too (we hope). AI has become an integral part of modern businesses, not only at IBM but in everything from TD Bank’s use of AI for its mortgage loan processing to Facebook’s use of AI to fine-tune your news feed.

All of which is fine and dandy, but it still begs the question: When can I bring home my own personal AI?

Well. There are several ways this can go.

Amazon Echo Dot promises not to spy on you.
Amazon Echo Dot promises not to spy on you.

The most mundane scenario starts with the forerunner model that may already be sitting in your living room or nestled in your smartphone. The tech giants — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft — are pouring billions into AI research and coming out with smart products that are slowly taking over the home and evolving into something … short of true AIs.

“Virtual assistants” such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod have come under scrutiny in the past year after mishaps in which private conversations were recorded and sent to outsiders. All three companies have strict policies in place to prevent these devices from recording ambient conversations. Same with Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana on your smartphone. But mistakes happen.

Still, we’re a long way from these consumer devices turning into personal AIs. They’re not autonomous, they don’t self-improve (a feature of true AIs) and, most importantly, they answer to the mother ship, not to your commands.

So what are the prospects for a true personal AI that you might be able to get your hands on one day?

Smart robots

Sophia the robot on stage (courtesy of SingularityNet).
Sophia the robot on stage (courtesy of SingularityNet).

Researchers at a number of labs are developing a broad range of AI-powered robots, and you’ll see them trotted out on stage at tech events. The vision is to create an anthropomorphic robot with the know-it-all capabilities of an IBM Watson. But as news report makes clear, just getting a robot to fold a shirt is a huge undertaking. So don’t hold your breath for smart robots coming to a household near you anytime soon.

Anime-inspired holograms

How about an AI in a box? The Japanese messaging company Line (200 million monthly active users) and its Korean parent company Naver have acquired a technology called Gatebox that makes an AI-powered hologram (some folks dubbed it a “virtual home robot,” but that’s a misnomer; it has no physical parts).

The developers at Gateway created a technology that let you summon your favorite anime character inside a Gatebox device and communicate with it. The tech seems to be aimed at the lonely coder boy market. And while you can no doubt customize your hologram — maybe even dress her up in a favorite outfit — I’m guessing these projections don’t exactly have Watson’s smarts.

But we’re in early days. The ick factor aside, you can see a potential market for this, as the maker’s database gets richer, as the licensing rights get sorted out (hello, Scarlett Johansson aka Black Widow) — and as the technology continues to make us more detached from the real world.

A personal AI via smartglasses

Amelia Earhart standing by her Lockheed Electra in Natal, Brazil, in June 1937. Her plane vanished over the Pacific less than a month later.
Amelia Earhart standing by her Lockheed Electra in Natal, Brazil, in June 1937. Her plane vanished over the Pacific less than a month later.

Now, let’s look at Door № 3. In my new high-tech thriller Catch and Kill, the protagonist Kaden Baker is a world-class hacker who develops her own personal AI. And for a change, the AI is on the side of the good guys.

Kaden spends weeks developing her AI, which she and her friends can only see with their smart glasses or smart contacts. She chooses to bring her to life in the form of her hero, Amelia Earhart.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 12 of Catch and Kill:

Kaden asked the waitress for the Wi-Fi password then turned back to her friends. “You know how most people just settle for outfitting their personal AIs with off-the-shelf templates to look like wizards, robots, baby dragons, cats? As if their AI were some kind of damn pet?”

This was one of her pet peeves. The personal AI revolution was off to a ragged start. Most people still talk about artificial intelligence as if it had to come wrapped inside a robot or device, but that never made sense to Kaden. Why have any hardware at all? All you needed was code, the cloud, and some visualization software.

She nudged their table a few inches away to keep the conversation to just her, Nico, and Annika.

“You know how much I’ve always loved Amelia Earhart.”

“Yeah, you worship her.” Nico began reciting from memory. “First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. First woman to fly coast to coast nonstop. First cross-dresser to win the Distinguished Flying Cross — ”

“She was a risk taker,” Kaden cut him off. No dissing Amelia tonight! “Always searching for something just out of reach. Never fit in her time.”

“Like someone else we know,” Nico said.

Kaden nodded. “I’ve been working on the code for years but only deployed Amelia six weeks ago. Decided to make her lifesize even though it takes a ton more bandwidth. I wanted to do her justice. Used old newsreels to get her voice exactly right. Made sure her period outfits and expressions were authentic. Kept her running in the background, trusting her to use deep learning to self-improve.”

Star Trek’s universal translator: when fiction envisions the future.
Star Trek’s universal translator: when fiction envisions the future.

All manner of science fiction movies and novels depict AIs from the playing-hard-to-get Her to Arthur C. Clarke’s immortal HAL 9000. But I haven’t yet seen a personal AI brought to life as a historical figure. (Have you?) Isn’t it much more human to interact with an AI with a specific personality and distinctive appearance rather than a cold chunk of metal? I’m not sold on the idea that we’ll all have robot sidekicks when we can more easily don a pair of smart glasses and interact in a cheerful way with the AI of our choice.

Of course, the devil is in the details. How easy will it be for those of us who aren’t world-class hackers to program, personalize and tailor our own AI to suit our needs? How simple will it be to choose our companion’s avatar and have her/her/it not just give us driving directions but cheer us up when we’re down, to provide insights we need, maybe even to help us escape from a high-tech prison, as Amelia helps Kaden in Catch and Kill?

While it may still seem the stuff of science fiction, remember that cutting edge fiction shapes our future, from H.G. Wells’ conjuring’s of the laser to Jules Verne’s visions of the modern submarine to the universal translators of “Star Trek,” now the being developed at a tech company near you.

It’s anyone’s guess what form personal AIs will take, but it’s not a question of if but of when. What’s your best guess?

Note: You can read the opening chapters of  Catch and Kill for free right hereThe book is available for sale on Amazon. This article originally appeared on Biznology.

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Can mixed reality be a shared experience? https://www.jdlasica.com/mixed-reality/can-mixed-reality-be-a-shared-experience/ https://www.jdlasica.com/mixed-reality/can-mixed-reality-be-a-shared-experience/#respond Sat, 27 Apr 2019 00:45:37 +0000 http://www.jdlasica.com/?p=13170 New VR tech unveiled at Tribeca Immersive underscores social nature of storytelling   One of the downsides of virtual reality is how isolating it can be. To be sure, there are exceptions, such as multiplayer games and the ability to access remote experiences — say, a real-time tour inside an Egyptian pyramid. But for the […]

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New VR tech unveiled at Tribeca Immersive underscores social nature of storytelling

 
One of the downsides of virtual reality is how isolating it can be. To be sure, there are exceptions, such as multiplayer games and the ability to access remote experiences — say, a real-time tour inside an Egyptian pyramid. But for the most part, you slip on a VR headset and you’re encased inside your own virtual world.

Today New York University’s Future Reality Lab is debuting a new shared XR technology at Tribeca Immersive, part of the Tribeca Film Festival, with the release of a new VR short called “CAVE.” It’s a coming-of-age story told through a new system developed to emphasize the social nature of art, cinema and storytelling.

Abra Williams, a spokesperson for the film’s creators, a new tech startup called Parallux, says researchers at NYU have developed “a new kind of VR technology that allows a fully immersive virtual world to be experienced together by many people in the same location.”

Specifically, a crowd of as many as 30 to 50 audience members in the same venue can see and hear immersive content — as well as one another — from their own point of view in a theater setting. Viewers feel physically present together in these shared worlds, just as they would when attending live theater or a concert, she says.

A woolly mammoth in the new VR short “CAVE.”
A woolly mammoth in the new VR short “CAVE.”

From the announcement:

Most of today’s XR experiences are designed for an audience of one. Even social AR/VR is limited to just a handful of participants. What results is low throughput, long waits, high costs and often isolated experiences.

But the new tech startup Parallux has figured out how to take AR/VR experiences mainstream & they’re unveiling the new tech at Tribeca. The new XR (mixed reality) technology is capable of bringing collective AR/VR experiences to the masses in a powerfully social way. Is this the future of cinema?

“Unlike traditional 360º VR, our solution provides viewers with a sense of shared holographic immersion,” said Sebastian Herscher, co-founder and CEO of Parallux. “Every audience member feels embodied and physically present in a common story world, just as they would when attending live theater or a concert.”

Created in partnership with NYU’s Future Reality Lab, “CAVE” was designed from the ground up to challenge the status quo of how audiences collectively experience immersive arts and entertainment. During the experience, the audience members are transported back to 10,000 BC, when stories were told around a campfire and the history of our ancestors was written on the walls of caves. There, a young woman named Ayara who struggles to decide whether to accept her role as shaman — her tribe’s only link to the spirit world.

Sounds very cool. Turning these kinds of events into truly shared experiences remains a challenge both on the tech side (I imagine the processing power required is considerable) and on the social side (after all, the VR headsets hide the facial cues that people customarily use to signal their reactions).

Given that I’m in San Francisco, I won’t be able to attend the event, but I’ll be keeping an eye on both Parallux and NYU’s Future Reality Lab as more cutting-edge technologies debut and become adopted by mainstream culture.

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How cutting-edge fiction shapes our future https://www.jdlasica.com/books/how-cutting-edge-fiction-shapes-our-future/ https://www.jdlasica.com/books/how-cutting-edge-fiction-shapes-our-future/#respond Wed, 10 Apr 2019 01:28:12 +0000 http://www.jdlasica.com/?p=12229 For decades, fiction authors have built worlds for their books that, over time, become reality. H.G. Wells imagined inspired inventions from the laser to email. Jules Verne envisioned modern submarines, TV newscasts and lunar modules. Isaac Asimov predicted robotics and mobile computing. “Star Trek” conjured the holodeck and universal translators. I still get chills thinking […]

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For decades, fiction authors have built worlds for their books that, over time, become reality. H.G. Wells imagined inspired inventions from the laser to email. Jules Verne envisioned modern submarines, TV newscasts and lunar modules. Isaac Asimov predicted robotics and mobile computing. “Star Trek” conjured the holodeck and universal translators. I still get chills thinking of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt.”

A novellette by Isaac Asimov appeared in the September 1950 edition of Weird Tales.

As the tech advances, engineers and technologists begin to build what seemed like science fiction fantasy only a few years or decades before. Today, teams at Amazon AWS and elsewhere are working on a sort of universal translator. And what is a holodeck but an advanced form of virtual reality?

Not all such fantasies pan out — we still don’t have Wells’ time machine or invisible man — but a funny thing is happening as the future rushes toward us ever faster: The mind-bending changes that new technologies imprint on society are no longer centuries or decades away. They’re right around the corner.

That means near-future fiction is no longer the province of just sci-fi authors. Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb, has a lengthy Eve Dallas series of police procedurals set in the 2050s. Daniel Suarez has given us “Change Agent” and “Daemon.” Andy Weir’s “The Martian” is more science thriller than sci-fi. Matthew Mather gives us “CyberStorm” and “Polar Vortex” without tipping into straight-out sci-fi — it’s the realism that makes it all so scary. Even Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” hews to a credible futuristic landscape circa 2045.

Over at Forbes.com, technology columnist Giovanni Rodriguez has a smart new piece titled, How A Great Techno-Thriller Might Help Us Reshape The Future. In it, he holds up my new high-tech thriller, Catch and Kill, as an example of this new breed of suspense novel that warns of the dark side of emerging technology.


holodeck
Many of the technological advances predicted in the fictional universe of “Star Trek” have become reality, such as the mobile communicator and hand-held tablet computers. And now the Holodeck seems to be edging closer to reality.

Excerpt from the Forbes piece:

I will give no spoilers (enjoy the book — it is good). But I will say this: the story can help us think about reshaping the future in at least three ways, beginning with the simple sci-fi/techno-thriller storytelling device of liberating the reader temporally. When I connected with J.D. a few weeks ago, we spoke about a new cottage industry in consulting where business leaders are asked to imagine the future using sci-fi tropes. It might seem silly, but I have spoken with one consulting firm that does this and I believe there’s some merit in the approach. It frees executives to stop focusing on what is good and bad in the present so they can ponder what could be good and bad for their children.

Another benefit: it forces executives to ask whether the good or bad future is already here (to paraphrase sci-fi legend William Gibson). When J.D. told me about the plot and the setting in the Carribean, I immediately thought about the flock of rich crypto-merchants that flew to Puerto Rico after the hurricane in 2017 to establish what looked like a new colony in Old San Juan. Not as weird or creepy as what J.D. depicts in Catch and Kill, but at least part of his imagined future is already here.

But another great thing about fiction is that it is generally designed to make the protagonist relatable, regardless of race, gender, or age. In the hands of a great writer like J.D., this principle presents great opportunities. The hero in “Catch And Kill is a woman (Kaden Baker), and this makes sense given the dramatic arc of the story (rescuing the girls).

J.D. has told me that a number of readers have told him how Catch and Kill feels cinematic. I agree. It can easily be commissioned as a film. But I believe a greater opportunity is to commission a single-player game with Kaden as the hero. That could inspire action. We are entering a world where media is more immersive than novels and cinema. The medium is the message, and the media is changing. And change in the future will come from our progeny.

Both books in the Shadow Conspiracy series — Biohack and “Catch and Kill” — are more thriller than sci-fi, but even modern thrillers have increasingly begun to weave the disruptive effects of life-altering technologies into their storylines. For me, biotech was the underlying engine that drove “Biohack.” Augmented and virtual reality propelled chunks of Catch and Kill.” In Book 3, I’ll be bringing back Amelia Earhart as a personal AI.

Call it sci-fi or call it a thriller, what matters is the story. The near-future tech is cool, but at bottom, the risks posed to the main characters and the threat to our shared humanity is what I think is resonating with so many readers.

You can read the first three chapters of “Catch and Kill” on my site for free.

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Augmented reality for the Web (& download a pet dinosaur!) https://www.jdlasica.com/augmented-reality/augmented-reality-for-the-web-download-a-pet-dinosaur/ https://www.jdlasica.com/augmented-reality/augmented-reality-for-the-web-download-a-pet-dinosaur/#comments Fri, 25 Jan 2019 02:09:07 +0000 http://www.jdlasica.com/?p=11936 Plus other takeaways from an AR meetup During the winter I’ve been head down working on book two of the high-tech thriller trilogy I’m writing (stay tuned for an announcement in March), so I haven’t been venturing out as much. But last night I attended AWE Nite SF, the largest augmented reality meetup in the San […]

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Plus other takeaways from an AR meetup

During the winter I’ve been head down working on book two of the high-tech thriller trilogy I’m writing (stay tuned for an announcement in March), so I haven’t been venturing out as much. But last night I attended AWE Nite SF, the largest augmented reality meetup in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly 400 people (including smartie techie friends Shel Israel and Nicole Lazzaro) jammed the Microsoft Reactor offices in SoMa for free pizza, beer and three demos from top-tier AR startups.

8th-wall-dino
Download the dino from 8th Wall.

I won’t blog the entire event (does anyone do that anymore in the age of Twitter and Instagram?), but there were some notable takeaways worth sharing. I’ll start with how to download your own pet dinosaur to your iPhone or Android phone. Start by having your phone read this QR code (these days you don’t need a QR reader, it’s embedded in your phone’s Camera). Moments later you’ll have a little purple dino hopping around on your desk, kitchen table, or wherever you’d like to position it.

Your dino comes courtesy of 8th Wall (tagline: instant augmented reality for any website). Lead software engineer Dat Chu demoed the product, which the cstartup describes as the first AR solution of its kind for mobile web browsers.

spiderman
Place Spider-Man in any setting you’d like, courtesy of Trigger AR and Sony Pictures.

And that was the theme of the evening: AR Web — augmented reality for the Web. It’s evolved into more than a idea or a few one-off demos. It looks like it’s becoming a trend, and one that brands need to start paying attention to, though it’s still a year or two away from maturation.

spiderman-QR
Download the character from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

Do you prefer superheroes to dinosaurs? Check out the lithe Spider-Man character from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Just scan the QR code to the right and you’ll download the action hero to your phone. He’ll position himself on any object (like my mouse, above), desktop, next to your spouse or significant other or — why not? — right on your lap.

Danny Parks, senior director of technology, gave a short demo on behalf of Trigger AR, The Mixed Reality Agency. They put together the Spider-Man download for Sony Pictures in less than four weeks. Some of their other clients include the NFL, NBA, MLS, PGA, Adidas, Nike and Reebok.

“We’ve gotten to the point where it’s not so hard to have Web AR on your website,” Parks said. “No app download required.”

Danny Parks of Trigger AR demoing at the meetup.
Danny Parks of Trigger AR demoing at the meetup.

That bodes well for visually oriented sites. I asked Parks to give a business use case of how a travel site like Expedia, Priceline or Trip Advisor might use Web AR in a couple of years. He didn’t miss a beat in replying: “If you’re Priceline and you’ve got a resort in Cabo that you want to advertise, instead of embedding a Google Street View you can pop a model of that beach on the user’s desk. He can look at it from different angles and see the wind surfing facility and the price for different rooms and book right there.”

‘If you have a resort in Cabo that you want to advertise, instead of embedding a Google Street View you can pop a model of that beach on the user’s desk’
— Danny Parks, Trigger AR

The Web is everywhere, Parks pointed out, and there’s a new movement afoot to get all modern Web browsers to adopt the new AR standards so that everyone can have easy access to AR-capable websites that can do the magic-like tricks we saw demoed here tonight.

Tricia Katz, evangelist, developer relations, for Magic Leap also demoed via Skype so attendees could hear the latest about the most hyped AR/VR startup in history. A long line formed out of the demo room so folks could get a chance to check out their latest headset, the Magic Leap One mixed reality headset (pictured below).

Developer Shane Engelman shows off the Magic Leap One.
Developer Shane Engelman shows off the Magic Leap One.

One final interesting factoid. Organizer/emcee Tom Emrich spotted this Twitter poll from Jesse Damiani, editor at large at VRScout, about terminology in the evolving space and got these results from 370 people who responded:

  • 48% are fine with sticking with AR/VR
  • 36% XR (for mixed reality)
  • 16% Other

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AI in the movies & the meaning of life (infographic) https://www.jdlasica.com/artificial-intelligence/ai-in-movies-meaning-of-life-infographic/ https://www.jdlasica.com/artificial-intelligence/ai-in-movies-meaning-of-life-infographic/#comments Tue, 15 Jan 2019 06:38:46 +0000 http://www.jdlasica.com/?p=11886 Motion pictures have blazed a trail in stoking ideas and igniting debate about AI — and the notion of what it means to be alive. Here's an infographic and essay about artificial intelligence in the movies.

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star wars robots
“Star Wars” was the first film featuring AI to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Do AIs dream of mortality? and other questions posed by artificial intelligence in the movies

Editor’s note: Brian Thomas wrote the following essay to accompany Enlightened Digital’s infographic “A Century of AI in the Movies” (below). Artificial intelligence plays a key role in my high-tech thriller series on Amazon, and I’ll be exploring the topics of AI, AR, VR and mixed reality on this blog in the coming months. — JD Lasica

Guest post by Brian Thomas
Enlightened Digital

Ever wonder about the meaning of life? One unlikely source for some answers may be the realm of artificial intelligence. After all, as tech labs continue down the path of creating intelligent systems, they confront questions about the nature of cognition, awareness and life itself.

Our fascination with these concepts extends to the silver screen. For decades, from Metropolis in 1927 through Star Wars, Tron and Spielberg’s AI, motion pictures have blazed a trail in stoking ideas and igniting debate about AI — and the very notion of what it means to be alive.

Here’s an infographic showcasing thought-provoking movies that discuss life and existence through the lens of AI:

ai infographic
Artificial intelligence has become a hot topic in tech circles recently, but AI has been a staple of motion pictures for decades. (Click on infographic to enlarge to full size.)

Purpose, survival & existential crisis

Starting with the HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (51 years ago!), we witness an AI act to secure its purpose and future existence. After what seems to be an errant prediction from the computer, the crew deems HAL to be flawed and therefore not trustworthy enough to control the ship as they continue a flight to Jupiter. In a separate confined room, the crew quietly decides to shut HAL down, though the AI reads their lips and realizes the crew’s objective. The AI, tasked with the successful completion of its mission, decides to remove the crew by manipulating the ship’s doors and escape pods in attempt to ensure the crew cannot turn him off, killing all but one of them in the process. HAL is not evil, just ruthlessly efficient at carrying out its mission.

2001-ai
The AI in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

To complicate matters, HAL has the dual goals of adhering to fact (acting on truth) and completing the mission. When these goals conflict, the AI finds a higher truth: survival. Like HAL, we’re drawn to the idea of having an overarching purpose that brings clarity to our lives. There are further lessons to be learned from HAL. This AI’s decision-making process also gives us reasons to consider how experiencing degrees of existential crisis can combine with other factors to tip individuals toward extreme behaviors. Rationalization, thy name is HAL. But even in an artificial intelligence we see where a sentient AI comes down on the question of whether “being on” is something worth fighting for.

This pursuit to preserve purpose and future existence also seems to hold constant in The Terminator series. Skynet, a superintelligent cloud neural network, harnesses military assets in order to destroy humans with a focus on Sarah Connor (it’s a time travel thing). After an attempt to deactivate it upon its reaching “artificial” consciousness, Skynet was convinced humans posed a continual threat to its existence and to its primary goal of guarding the world. As a result, this artificial general superintelligence used its computing and sensor reach — which extends to millions of devices across the globe — to conduct surveillance and direct drones, missile systems and cyborgs to carry out attacks.

As with HAL, it’s interesting that this natural fight for survival seems to extend to the behavior of self-aware AI in the stories told by these movies.

What does it mean to be human, alive or free?

We witness a refreshing change of script with Andrew in Bicentennial Man (1999) starring Sam Neill and Robin Williams as the AI. In contrast to HAL and Skynet, this AI wants to gain the ability to die in order to feel as if he was actually living. Andrew seems to possess a greater range of emotions and thus he might find his decisions impacted by these characteristics. He falls in love with a human and wants to live a life more similar to his mate, and a big piece of doing so comes with the ability to not live well beyond the life of his lover. For this reason, he acts to gain the ability to die and live a more authentic, human, finite life. (It’s interesting that Skynet, with much more distributed computing horsepower, came to an altogether different conclusion about mortality.)

Bicentennial Man posits a question worthy of the millennium’s top philosophers: Does part of the value of life come from its fragility and temporal nature? Hold that thought.

Ava, the AI from 2015’s “Ex Machina.”

Ava, the AI from 2015’s Ex Machina, displays a similar desire to exist as a regular human, but somehow the ability to die isn’t on her wish list. At various points, this AI exhibits behaviors that resemble affection and a thirst for freedom. Viewers later learn Ava’s hunger for affection was either a temporary glitch or a ruse to gain her true goal: She wants to escape the confines of the lab and enter the broader world. To do so, she plays on a human’s sympathies, using affect as a weapon against him. She ultimately leaves him abandoned and trapped in the building where she was created.

One might view Ava’s pursuit of the outside world as an attempt to “really live” as a free being. Her decision to imprison the human who found her attractive and helped her escape looms as an all too human retaliatory response against someone who posed no threat. (Do AIs dream of sadism?) Or perhaps it’s just a precautionary measure to ensure the world never uncovers her identity as an AI. That, along with whether Ava wants to enter the real world to live in it or control it, is a question left for us to ponder.

upgrade
Melanie Vallejo and Logan Marshall-Green in “Upgrade.”

Last year’s Aussie flick Upgrade tells the story of a guy who uses an implanted AI chip to control his appendages after becoming a quadriplegic — and taking revenge on the criminals who attacked him and killed his wife. Actually, the revenge part is mostly the AI’s idea, a plot device that allows us to continue to root for him during his revenge rampage. The movie raises questions about the balance between biological autonomy and technological assistance. Does a person become less human when he becomes merely the vehicle for the AI’s exploits? Just who is acting more “human” here, anyway? And broadening out the theme, what does it say about a modern world in which we retreat to our smartphones and behave in a preordained way based on outside technologies that give us just a small hit of dopamine?

Does it matter if we exist in a simulation?

The Matrix showcases a world in which humans no longer operate in base reality but rather inside of an existence created by machines. After a global war against the machines, the remaining humans find themselves placed within vats that harvest their thermal energy and keep them hooked up to reality-inducing technology. Such technologies are at the center of many sci-fi stories. Fortunately, we’re still a good distance away from this simulated reality becoming true (Elon Musk notwithstanding). 

matrix
Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”: What if we achieve a simulated reality on our own?

That said, perhaps we’re partway there with our constant focus on multitasking and new fascination with AR and VR technologies. Some video game players are so wrapped up in their games that these constructs (and their increasingly believable characters) are becoming more real than the physical world. With the advent of headsets and full-body haptic suits that simulate touch, force and even weight, and a suspension system that allows full movement of the body to correspond with in-game actions, we’re getting closer.

And here’s a thought experiment: What if we could stimulate the brain to create such an alternate reality? Instead of targeting the senses to create an experience for the brain, the brain is targeted in order to create an experience that tricks the senses. The machines surely achieve this in The Matrix.  

I’ll leave it to the philosophers to tell us whether it matters if we live our lives in a simulation. 

Brian Thomas is a contributor to Enlightened Digital, a long-distance cyclist and a lifelong advocate for women in business. He’s from Philadelphia.

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