Friday Five: accessible AI and microwearables

Each week Zone's Letty Key handpicks the five best stories on new trends and technologies...

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1. Facebook faces up to data duty

Between ongoing investigations, political hearings and the fallout from yet another scandal, it's fair to say Facebook is in the crosshairs at the minute – and rightly so. But what is the social platform doing to address the backlash? 

Well, as the remains of the latest data disaster still smoulder on the fire, Facebook has announced it will be changing its data policy language to make it much clearer, changing third-party app access and launching a bulk third-party app removal tool. Good start, Zuck. It's just a shame that it has taken an international outcry for Facebook to treat its users as informed customers instead of mere commodities. 


2. Google Cloud jumps through hoops

Predicting the future in real time is a notoriously tricky business. But Google decided to give it a stab this week, showcasing the clout of its big data analytics services during a live match of a prestigious US college basketball tournament.

Of course the whole thing was a giant advert for Google Cloud, with reams of data analysed and converted into predictions – such as how many three-point shots would be attempted in the second half – that were aired in a live TV ad at half-time. High public visibility made this a risky venture, but this blog post explains the method involved and, as luck would have it, Google very nearly nailed it.


3. New Apple tech is virtually a reality

Keeping tabs on patents filed is a great way to get a sense of the technological developments that could be on the horizon. And it appears that if Apple gets its way, we'll all be fighting zombies while hang-gliding in self-driving cars in the coming years. Allow me to explain...

The tech giant has had its patent for a VR system for autonomous cars published, with a raft of experiences – from soothing nature scenes to battling the aforementioned zombies – set to mark a departure from the traditional idea of car travel. However, the timing isn't great given the intense scrutiny on self-driving cars following the recent Uber tragedy, and I imagine that winning back public trust will take precedence over anything designed to distract people from the outside world.


4. An appetite for data

Wearables are so 2017. Thanks to a breakthrough in miniaturised sensor technology, we could now be entering the age of the microwearable. And like it or not, the first application could clamp down on bad habits thanks to a tiny tooth-mounted sticker that automatically tracks everything you eat, drink and smoke.

While hugely simplifying the process of logging food and drink intake by removing the manual aspect, the concept has set data privacy bells ringing for some. The possibilities for real-time health management are great, but whether this becomes the next Fitbit or something more akin to a parole ankle monitor depends entirely on how it is turned into a product, for whom and for what purpose.


5. AI assists with accessibility 

Accessibility is set for a huge leap forward with the help of new AI software. Using a combination of AI-generated interface designs and profile-based computerised 'users', the software is able to cycle through millions of keyboard design variations and find the version that is best suited for users with different disabilities.

If broadened, the software could lead to data-driven refinements on design and usability factors without the cost of human testing. Initial results have been positive, which means the often-repeated statistic of five users being enough to uncover 85% of usability issues could soon be blown out of the water.

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