Current and Future Trends Archive

Politics creeps in to the world of the voice-driven assistant

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Is Amazon Alexa and similar voice-driven assistants becoming a new point of political influence in our lives?

Amazon’s Alexa under fire for voicing gender and racial views | The Times via The Australian

Alexa, are you a liberal? Users accuse Amazon’s smart assistant of having a political bias after she reveals she is a feminist who supports Black Lives Matter | Daily Mail

Amazon’s Alexa is a feminist and supports Black Lives Matter | Salon

My Comments

An issue that has started to come on board lately is how Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana respond to highly-polarising political questions especially in context to hot-button topics.

This talking point has come up just lately in the USA which has over the last year become highly polarised. It has been driven by the rise of the alt-right who have been using social media to spread their vitriol, the fake news scandals, along with Donald Trump’s rise to the White House. Even people from other countries who meet up with Americans or have dealings with any organisation that has strong American bloodlines may experience this.

Could this even apply to Apple’s Siri assistant or Google Assistant that you have in your smartphone?

What had been discovered was that Amazon’s Alexa voice-driven assistant was being programmed to give progressive-tinted answers to issues seen to be controversial in the USA like feminism, Black Lives Matter, LGBTI rights, etc. This was causing various levels of angst amongst the alt-right who were worried about the Silicon-Valley / West-Coast influence on the social media and tech-based information resources.

But this has not played off with the UK’s hot-button topics with Alexa taking a neutral stance on questions regarding Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May and similar lssues. She was even challenged about what a “Corbynista” (someone who defends Jeremy Corbyn and his policies) is. This is due to not enough talent being available in the UK or Europe to program Alexa to achieve answers  to UK hot topics in a manner that pleases Silicon Valley.

The key issue here is that voice-driven assistants can be and are being programmed to answer politically-testing questions in a hyper-polarised manner. How can this be done?

Could it also apply to Cortana on your Windows 10 computer?

The baseline approach, taken by Apple, Google and Microsoft, can be to give the assistant access to these resources that matches the software company’s or industry’s politics. This can be pointing to a full-tier or meta-tier search engine that ranks favourably resources aligned to the desired beliefs. It can also be about pointing also to non-search-engine resources like media sites that run news with that preferred slant.

The advanced approach would be for a company with enough programming staff and knowledge on board could programmatically control that assistant to give particular responses in response to particular questions. This could be to create responses worded in a way to effectively “preach” the desired agenda to the user. This method is infact how Amazon is training Alexa to respond to those topics that are seen as hot-button issues in the USA.

Government regulators in various jurisdictions may start to raise questions regarding how Alexa and co are programmed and their influence on society. This is with a view to seeing search engines, social media, voice-driven assistants and the like as media companies similar to newspaper publishers or radio / TV broadcasters and other traditional media outlets, with a similar kind of regulatory oversight. It is more so where a voice-driven assistant is baked in to hardware like a smart speaker or software like an operating system to work as the only option available to users for this purpose, or one or more of these voice-driven assistants benefits from market dominance.

At the moment, there is nothing you can really do about this issue except to be aware of it and see it as something that can happen when a company or a cartel of companies who have clout in the consumer IT industry are given the power to influence society.

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GM creates a marketplace from your dashboard

Articles

GM Marketplace lets your car buy donuts and coffee | CNet

GM thinks you’ll buy stuff through your car’s dashboard | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

GM (USA)

Press Release

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

General Motors is bringing a new trend that will affect the connected car. This is to create a “marketplace” on the dashboard’s touchscreen-based user interface to sell goods and services to the driver and passengers. The technology that is used will be the 4G LTE mobile broadband link but will most likely be facilitated through GM.

Typically, the kind of goods and services that will be pitched initially are fuel from Shell and ExxonMobil; food and drinks from Starbucks, TGIF and a few other vemdors; parking; along with data service, OnStar subscriptions and servicing from GM.

There will be the ability to bind the accounts, loyalty programs and payment cards you use with these merchants to this system so that you can pay for the goods and services through the dashboard including accruing or redeeming loyalty points.

The GM Marketplace will be available with 2017-2018 GM North-American-nameplate (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC) vehicles that are equipped with the correct advanced infotainment setup. As well, there will be the limited

Let’s not forget that other vehicle builders and aftermarket infotainment manufacturers would be showing interest in creating their own “in-dash” marketplace for selling goods and services through their advanced infotainment systems. In some cases, an alliance of vehicle builders or infotainment manufacturers could set up a marketplace that appears on all of their

But this can lead to fragmentation if partner businesses have to associate with the multiple “in-dash” marketplaces. Similarly there is the issue of independent suppliers like standalone motels and restaurants or independent fuel brands finding it difficult to come on board typically due to lack of bargaining power. This may be facilitated through alliances who can represent these businesses in order to bring them on board.

Other issues that will also need to be raised include the ability to maintain accounts particular to individual drivers as well as to a vehicle. It will also have to include support for “guest” operation where a person could purchase goods or services through an in-dash marketplace without needing to register with that marketplace; along with the ability to support split ordering for things like drive-through food.

At the moment, GM is proving the concept of the in-dash marketplace and could encourage other companies to build up this concept.

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What is the eSIM all about for mobile broadband

Articles

SIM card

These SIM cards will be embedded in subsequent generations of mobile devices including Always Connected PCs

It’s time to embrace the eSIM | Engadget

What Is an eSIM, and How Is It Different From a SIM Card? | How-To Geek

‘Telstra One Number’ Is Telstra’s New eSIM Tech | Gizmodo

eSIM feature to arrive with Windows 10 Version 1803 for always connected PCs | WinCentral

My Comments

A trend that will have an impact on devices that use cellular-based wireless broadband technology is for them to implement eSIM authentication.

What is the eSIM technology?

It is effectively an embedded SIM which is a hardwired equivalent of the SIM card that authenticates you to a mobile-telephony / wireless-broadband service as a customer.

One of the key advantages to this approach over the traditional user-replaceable SIM card is that there isn’t a need to design a large user-accessible space in a mobile device to accommodate one of these cards. Instead, the customer’s wireless-broadband service is provisioned to their device “over the air” rather than having to encode a SIM card to hand over to the customer to be installed in the device. It is similar to the online provisioning and service activation process implemented for some prepaid mobile-telephony / wireless-broadband services sold through ordinary retailers in some markets.

What devices will this appeal to?

This approach appeals to the wearables market where size does certainly matter but is also appealing towards the connected car where there isn’t a desire to create a cavity for a SIM to be installed. Just lately, the eSIM technology is also appealing to the “always-connected” ultraportable laptops thanks to the next major functionality iteration of Windows 10 having software support for this functionality baked in.

Let’s not forget that newer smartphones, USB modems and MiFi routers including multiple-WAN routers will become equipped with eSIM support, especially where multiple-service functionality is to be part of the feature set. It could allow one to design, for example,  an Android smartphone with a classic SIM slot and an eSIM along with a microSD card slot. Here, a user could then benefit from the advantages of multiple services while using a microSD card to provide “infinite” storage for music, photos and videos.

The main disadvantage that the eSIM will offer to some people will be that they can’t switch SIM cards around quickly, which may be of concern with people using a “decoy” number associated with a prepaid service or people who are troubleshooting mobile devices.

What does this allow?

It was brought on board in 2013 but recent improvements to the eSIM standard allowed for a customer to maintain multiple eSIM services from the same or different carriers in the one device. It is similar to how users are switching SIM cards around to maintain multiple service accounts, such as to maintain separate “business” and “private” services, to sign up with “destination-local” mobile-telephony services with a “destination-local” number and payment options, amongst other reasons.

This provides simplification for these users by providing “over-the-air” provisioning for additional services including varying these services or re-instigating dormant services. The user-experience that may be offered is to choose the network that provides the service you want to use then enter an activation code of some sort to “turn on” that particular service. Typically this would be something you receive in an email if you are enrolling online or receive from a staff member at a “bricks-and-mortar” store.

Some carriers and service providers are exploiting eSIM by offering a “one number one account multiple devices” option for their mobile services such as Telstra’s “One Number” service. But there are other ways that mobile-telephony service providers can exploit the emerging eSIM setup. But the carriers can look at exploiting the eSIM further such as tying it in with BYOD business setups, mobile services that can be “parked” when not needed amongst other things.

In some business environments, it could allow a single shared device to be associated with multiple service accounts with the accounts in operation dependent on who is logging in to the device. This could tie in with the “portable desktop” approach towards business telecommunications where one’s computing and telecommunications setup is moved amongst multiple devices but your boss or clients call you at the same extension number.

Conclusion

The eSIM approach for authenticating mobile-telephony and broadband service can open up a wide range of approaches both for device design and for service delivery.

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Windows 10 on Qualcomn ARM chips–to be real

Articles

Snapdragon smartphone electronics in 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Qualcomn

Implementing high-end smartphone electronics into an ultraportable laptop

Smartphone Guts Are Coming to Windows Laptops, and It Could Triple Your Battery Life | Gizmodo

Microsoft reveals ‘Always Connected PCs’ from HP and ASUS with Windows 10 on ARM | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Always Connected PCs enable a new culture of work (Windows Experience Blog)

Qualcomn

Qualcomm Launches Technology Innovation with Advancements in the Always Connected PC and its Next-Generation Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Platform (Press Release)

A day in the life with the Snapdragon 835 powered HP Envy x2 PC (OnQ Blog)

Video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Microsoft had made some attempts at bringing Windows to the ARM RISC microarchitecture with a view to bringing forth cheaper computers. But they had failed thanks to silicon based on traditional Intel x86/x64 microarchitecture being offered at very cheap price points and able to natively run a large roster of software already available for that platform.

But they, along with Qualcomn who supply the silicon for most of today’s smartphones, have re-approached this through the vision of an ultraportable laptop computer or tablet that implements the same technology as one of the recent high-end smartphones and phablets. This has been drawn out alongside the recent crop of highly-capable 11”-14” 2-in-1 laptops that are making a strong appeal as a highly-capable alternative to the iPad and Android-based tablets.

But the computers that represent the “Always Connected PC” product class integrate a large battery along with the LTE-based wireless-broadband modem, both of which allow for a long time of computer activity without the need of Wi-Fi or daily charging. These would also support eSIM which allows for over-the-wire provisioning of mobile broadband service, including the ability to provide “international-focused” service for people roaming around the world. HP and ASUS have premiered a detachable 2-in-1 and a convertible 2-in-1 which are based on this technology.

Microsoft is pushing the Always-Connected PC for the workplace with a focus towards a managed computing environment. Here, it is about avoiding the need to connect to insecure public-access Wi-Fi networks or worry about whether you have the laptop’s power supply with you when you head to work or make that business trip.

I see it more as an answer to Apple’s iOS platform, Google’s ChromeOS platform and Samsung’s interpretation of the Android platform where the goal is to cater to a mainstream productivity-focused computing environment for work or school.

Here, the focus would be about interacting with cloud-based business / education software whether as a Web app or as platform-native software or simply working with information using standard office-productivity software, perhaps with some video playback or mobile-grade gaming. I also see this as a way for Microsoft to aggressively compete against the iPad in the household, education and business environment by encouraging its partners to offer tablets and 2-in-1s that have the same operational qualities as that tablet.

But it wouldn’t displace the Intel / AMD x86/x64-based computers which would be focused towards applications where performance is of importance such as serious gaming or photo / video editing. But as for running Windows software, the ARM-based variants of Windows will be implementing an x86 emulation layer that allows 32-bit Windows software to run on these computers. This is while Windows software developers who package software for the Windows Store will be encouraged to deploy code native to x86, x64 and ARM microarchitectures.

The big challenge now is for software developers and games studios to port the software that is on the iOS or Android platforms towards the Windows 10 platforms on all the microarchitectures. It would them make it viable for Windows to continue as a third force for “non-handheld” mobile computing.

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France takes steps towards a YouTube competitor

Articles – French language / Langue Française

Map of France

France sowing the seeds for a YouTube competitor

Nouveau monde. Un YouTube “libre” à la française | France TV

From the horse’s mouth

Framatube.org

My Comments

I have previously raised the issue of people and companies based in Europe building online services that compete with what Silicon Valley offers but respect European values. This has been more so in respect to the European Commission taking legal action against the Silicon Valley IT titans like Google and Facebook due to issues like user privacy and respect for European values.

Subsequently, in answer to Google denying Amazon access to YouTube for their Echo Show product, I wrote an article about YouTube needing to face competition when it comes to online video services.

Here, I was calling out issues like individuals and small businesses needing affordable options for sharing their video content while they maintain effective control over it. It also includes issues like monetisation options for video content providers along with proper fair dealing for content creators and rightsholders when it comes to using copyrighted works in the content creators’ videos. The latter issue focuses on users using a relatively small part of a copyrighted work like a phrase from a song or a few seconds of vision from a film or TV show in an incidental manner.

Amazon Echo Spot press picture courtesy of Amazon

Could this be a chance to make user-generated video available on devices like Amazon’s Echo Spot?

In the same context, I was calling out the availability of native-client apps for various IT platforms, whether as a separately-installed app for a regular-computer or mobile operating system or as something baked in to firmware for a device like a set-top box or smart speaker. This is so you aren’t always heading down an inefficient path of using a browser to view videos or find that you can’t use the platform’s or device’s assets for this task.

The French have taken off with this goal with Framasoft, a French open-source software developer, working towards a peer-to-peer approach.

The “PeerTube” approach is based on free open-source software and implements a “federation” model. This is where a host could store video uploaded to it directly but also share video uploaded to other hosts. This can please media companies, the education sector, Webhosts and other companies who have multiple servers or data centers in differing geographical locations and make sure these hosts serve viewers closer to them.

It is being driven by the “WebTorrent” concept of integrating BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing technology to video streaming in an effort to reduce latency. Again, it is implementing free open-source technology to achieve the same goal.

At the moment, the “PeerTube” effort is at an alpha stage but there is a goal to have it to beta by March 2018. Framasoft are raising money to get this idea off the ground and have raised EUR€16,032 at the time of writing. There is also the issue of creating a Web-based portal to show what’s available along with providing source code to make native clients for a PeerTube content delivery network.

Personally, I would see the “PeerTube” concept working tightly with Webhosts, content delivery networks and the like to make audio and video distribution affordable for the small-timer. There will also be their idea of data centers including edge computing being used as a way to expedite reliable access to “catch-up TV” and similar video content pools.

What needs to happen once PeerTube is proven is that it needs to be sold as a viable alternative for YouTube when it comes to offering user-generated video content.

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Windows to introduce quick-pair for Bluetooth

Articles

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

Quick pairing to come to Windows 10 to simplify connecting Bluetooth headsets to these computers

Bluetooth quick pairing feature in the works for Windows 10 | Windows Central

Bluetooth “Quick Pair” Feature is Coming to Windows 10 | Thurrott blog

Previous coverage on Bluetooth quick-pairing

Bluetooth Fast Pairing–to be part of the Android platform

My Comments

Google Fast Pair in action - press image courtesy of GoogleApple and Google have put up a simplified Bluetooth pair-up approach for commissioning newly-purchased Bluetooth headsets and other accessory devices with host devices based on their mobile operating systems.

This approach has the Bluetooth device sending out a short range “beacon” to compliant host devices, causing them to pop up a notification inviting the user to instigate the pair-up procedure. Google even had the ability to invite users to download and install any companion apps for devices designed with the “app-cessory” approach.

It is rather than having the user head to the Bluetooth menu on their host device and to make sure they choose the Bluetooth peripheral device they intend to pair to. This can be arduous where Bluetooth device names appear to be very confusing such as to only show a model number or the device is being set up in an area where other Bluetooth devices are being setup to be discoverable such as “always ready to pair” default setups like Alpine car stereos.

Now Microsoft is working on similar functionality that will appear in the next or subsequent feature release of Windows 10. In this case, Windows users will have the ability to enable or disable this feature and the notifications will appear as pop-up messages.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

.. to make these easy to set up

The Windows 10 host computer would need to be equipped with a Bluetooth interface compliant to Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (Bluetooth Smart) standards for this function to work. It effectively makes the user experience for Bluetooth devices very similar to the “plug-and-play” experience that Microsoft achieved for peripherals directly connected to a Windows host computer.

Why would I suspect that a user be required to put a “fast-pair” Bluetooth device in setup mode?

One reason that I would see some manufacturers require a user to place a “fast-pair” Bluetooth peripheral device in a setup mode or specifically enable this feature on that device would be to conserve battery runtime on a portable device. Here, having a device broadcasting the beacon signal all the time may be taking power away from the device’s main functionality thus shortening the battery’s runtime.

It could also be a device security requirement to cater for environments where multiple compliant host devices are likely to exist and you want to make sure that your accessory device isn’t ending up pairing to someone else’s host device. It is an important issue with health and allied devices like fitness bands which work with your smartphone and these devices are dealing with very personal information. This can also be a user-experience issue regarding pop-up notificatiosn for other users’ devices.

What is showing up now is that a simplified user experience is being made available whenever you are commissioning a newer Bluetooth device.

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Video peripherals increasingly offering audio-output abilities

Article

XBox One games console press image courtesy Microsoft

Newer iterations of the XBox One to have connectivity for WISA-compliant speakers

Wireless speaker support could be coming to Xbox One consoles | Windows Central

My Comments

An increasing trend for video-peripheral devices like set-top boxes and games consoles is to offer an ability to connect speakers or headphones directly to these devices even though these devices are normally seen as video source devices. This goes against the conventional wisdom of a TV, soundbar and / or home-theatre receiver serving as the audio destination device for a home AV setup.

DLNA media directory provided by server PC

But what of Smart TVs being able to pass audio to these devices?

For example, Humax are offering a Bluetooth A2DP audio output on their premium PVRs so that the soundtrack from whatever you are watching on the PVR’s “current” tuner or hard disk can be fed through a Bluetooth headset or speaker. Just lately, Microsoft partnered up with the WISA Association to provide wireless-speaker output through WISA-compliant speakers from subsequent XBox games-console designs.

Let’s not forget that some soundbars and audio amplifiers are equipped with one HDMI-ARC connection for the TV and don’t add a video source to the home AV setup. The same situation also encompasses a large number of popularly-priced DVD and Blu-Ray home-theatre systems that only have one HDMI-ARC connection for the host TV as the only way to connect video equipment to these systems.

The limitation that is being shown up here is that you can’t stream the soundtrack of video content through the speakers or headphones connected through these devices’ Bluetooth or wireless-speaker outputs unless you are viewing the content hosted by the device itself. Or you may find it difficult to watch what you want yet hear it in the manner that suits the situation such as via headphones or a better speaker setup.

This is very similar to the old practice of connecting a video recorder’s audio output to a hi-fi amplifier to pipe the sound from either a TV broadcast or a videotape through the better-sounding hi-fi speakers.  There were even some video recorders that had their own headphone amplifiers or users simply connected them to hi-fi amplifiers or similar devices with integrated headphone outputs in order to add private or late-night listening abilities to that TV which wasn’t equipped with a headphone output. In that case, you only had access to the video recorder’s tuner or its tape transport through the hi-fi system with the video recorder offering some advantages over what was integrated in that old TV.

It may not be seen as a limitation except if a video peripheral connected to the TV or the TV’s own abilities provide content different to what is available in the “speaker-ability”-equipped video peripheral.

But what can be done to improve upon this reality would be for TV and video-peripheral manufacturers to answer this trend in an improved way.

Use of HDMI-ARC input functionality for host-TV audio

One way would be for the video-peripheral vendors who provide this kind of Bluetooth / WISA or similar “speaker output” ability to implement HDMI-ARC connectivity on their device’s HDMI output socket. It is very similar to the approach used by a popularly-priced DVD or Blu-Ray home-theatre system which only has one HDMI socket,

This means that if the device is connected to the ARC-capable HDMI socket on the TV, it can stream the sound from the TV’s own tuner, “connected-TV” functionality or video peripherals connected to the other HDMI inputs on the TV through this device’s “speaker output”.

Here, you may have to use the device’s controller to select “TV audio” to hear the sound associated with the TV’s sources through the Bluetooth speaker for example. But some TVs that implement this system properly may offer an “audio output” option on the audio menu so you can direct the sound to the audio-capable device by selecting that device rather than the TV’s internal speakers.

The TV to support multiple HDMI-ARC video peripherals

A TV could also implement HDMI-ARC across multiple HDMI sockets to cater for multiple video peripherals that support this functionality. It would come in to its own where different video peripherals use different connection methods for audio devices or you use a soundbar or home theatre setup equipped with a single HDMI connection alongside one of these video peripherals.

Here, you would have the ability to direct the sound to one or more of the HDMI-ARC devices instead of or in addition to the integral speakers.

The first application that one may think of would be to provide late-night private listening using a pair of Bluetooth headphones connected to a cable box, or to switch to WISA-capable speakers connected to a newer XBOX rather than hear the sound through the TV’s speakers. On the other hand, the setup could allow the concurrent operation of multiple audio outputs such as to use a Bluetooth headset connected via a cable box and run at an independent volume level for someone who is hard of hearing while everyone else in the room hears the TV content through the TV’s or home-theatre’s speakers.

In both situations, it would be desirable to hear whatever source is connected to the TV such as a Blu-Ray player or a network media player through the Bluetooth headphones connected via the Bluetooth-capable cable TV box.

How should the digital audio be delivered?

A question that can be raised is how the digital audio is to be delivered to the different HDMI-ARC devices.

This can affect whether to run a stereo or surround soundmix for the content’s soundtrack; whether the soundtrack should be delivered as a Dolby Digital / DTS bitstream that the HDMI-ARC audio device decodes or as a PCM bitstream already decoded by the TV or source video peripheral; or simply whether to stay within the “CD/DAT-quality” digital parameters (16 bit 44.1kHz or 48kHz sampling rate) or allow “master-grade” digital parameters (24 bit 96kHz or 192kHz sampling rate).

This situation may be determined by the destination audio device’s abilities such as whether it can decode Dolby Digital or DTS audio or if it can handle digital audio at “master-grade” bitrates. Similarly, it may also be about achieving a common specification for all of the connected devices, including whether and how to concurrently provide multiple audio streams for the same content such as to offer a two-channel soundmix and a multichannel soundmix.

This can lead to situations like supplying multiple soundmixes of a kind via HDMI-ARC in order to make situations like multilingual audio, audio description or selectable commentary work well for different viewers. Similarly, it could be feasible to offer a “surround via headphones” binaural soundmix like Dolby Headphone to Bluetooth headsets connected to a cable box while offering a full surround soundmix through a multiple-speaker home theatre setup.

Conclusion

What will eventually be raised is what can be achieved at a common baseline specification, including issues of processing power and HDMI bandwidth that the setup can handle. This is especially if a device like a games console or set-top box is working as a content source and audio sink while the TV works as an audio “hub”.

It is more so where we are expecting that flat-screen TV, especially one installed in a secondary lounge area, being required to become an AV hub for all of the video peripherals that are connected to it.

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Sonnet shows up a highly-portable external graphics module

Articles

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

This Little Box Can Make Even the Junkiest Laptop a Gaming PC | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Sonnet

eGFX Breakaway Puck (Product Page, Press Release)

My Comments

Increasingly there has been the rise of external graphics modules that connect to your laptop or small-form-factor desktop computer via its Thunderbolt 3 port. This has allowed this class of computer to benefit from better graphics hardware even though they don’t have the ability for you to fit a graphics card in them. Similarly, they would appeal to users who have an ultraportable computer and mainly want the advanced graphics in a particular environment like home or office but don’t care about it on the road.

A highly-portable approach to giving the Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake and its ilk discrete graphics

But most of these devices have come in the form of a “card-cage” which houses a desktop-grade graphics card, which is all and well if you are thinking of using gaming-grade or workstation-grade desktop graphics hardware. As well, these “card-cage” units would take up a lot of space, something that may not be beneficial with cramped desktop or entertainment-unit spaces.

Acer previously issued one of these external graphics modules which has an integrated NVIDIA graphics chipset but Sonnet has now come to the fore with the eGFX Breakaway Puck that uses integrated AMD Radeon graphics silicon. This device is sold as two different models with one equipped with the AMD Radeon RX560 GPU and another with the better-performing Radeon RX570 GPU.

The Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck can be stuffed in to a backpack’s pocket this making it appeal to users who are likely to be travelling more. As well, they offer a VESA-compliant bracket so that this external graphics module can be mounted on a display stand or arm for those of us who want as much space on the desktop as possible.

Connectivity for external displays is in the form of 3 DisplayPort outlets and 1 HDMI 2.0b outlet to cater for multi-monitor setups. It also exploits the Power Delivery standard to supply up to 45W of power to the host computer which can mean that you don’t need to use the computer’s charger to power the host computer.

There could be some improvements regarding connectivity like having another Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C port for connection to other peripherals, something that can be of concern with ultraportables that use very few connections. But I would see this opening up the idea for similarly-sized integrated-chipset external graphics modules both as highly-portable “add-ons” for laptop computers or to create “building-block” approaches to small-form-factor “NUC-style” desktop computer setups.

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BBC introduces interactive radio drama using Alexa

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Amazon Echo and similar voice-driven assistants will end up being able to provide voice-driven interactive storytelling

BBC launches interactive voice drama for Amazon Alexa devices | CNet News

My Comments

Any of you who have lived in the UK or other British Commonwealth countries will be familiar with the BBC’s long-time expertise with radio plays. Examples of these include the unforgettable humour of the Goons or the long-evolving countryside drama that is the Archers. If you didn’t hear it on the BBC, you may have heard one of these dramas via a resource available through the Internet or a local public radio station syndicated one or more of the BBC radio plays, making it available to hear through your trusty radio. These are essentially comedy and drama that is delivered through an audio-only medium.

But the BBC are combining this old-time craft of theirs and the concept of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books to provide an interactive audio drama that you effectively participate in using, at the moment, the Amazon Alexa platform.  “The Inspection Chamber” is a science fiction comedy where you effectively are playing the “extra character” in the show to steer its plot.

It will also be very similar to those text-based adventure games made available through mainframe computers and early home-computer platforms but this effort will be about having a wider vocabulary and natural-language handling.

But I see this as a way to take voice-driven assistants further in the direction of providing entertainment in the form of “Choose Your Own Adventure” interactive storytelling. This could lead to other radio-drama houses and, to some extent, education / training environments taking this concept further to provide voice-driven interactive stories, such as to provide scenario-driven training or language learning.

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AMD now launches the Ryzen processor for portable computing

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

AMD

Ryzen Processors (Product Page)

Video (Click or tap to play)

My Comments

Just lately, Intel released their 8th generation Kaby Lake R family of “Core i” processors which are targeted at portable computers. These powerful CPUs that were optimised for portable use were issued with an intent to compete against AMD’s upcoming release of their Ryzen processors, pitched at a similar usage scenario. Various press articles even drew attention towards being able to play more powerful PC games on these lightweight computers rather than limiting their scope of activity.

Now AMD have released this silicon which also integrates the Radeon Vega graphics-processing silicon for the laptop market. This is where they are targeting the Ryzen 7 2700U CPU and the Ryzen 5 2500U 15-watt processors and instigating a race against Intel’s Kaby Lake R horsepower and QHD integrated graphics.

What I see of this is that Intel and AMD will make sure that this generation of ultraportable computers will be seen to be more powerful than the prior generations. Think of using an Intel Kaby Lake R Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 powered 2-in-1 for most photo-editing tasks or as a “virtual turntable” in the DJ booth, activities that wouldn’t be associated with this class of computer.

At the moment, Intel hasn’t licensed the Thunderbolt 3 connectivity standard across the board including to AMD, which will see it as a limitation when it comes to allow users to upgrade graphics capabilities on their AMD Rysen-equipped laptops using an external graphics module.

One way Intel could approach this is to divest the Thunderbolt standards and intellectual property to an independent working group like the USB.org group so that manufacturers who implement Intel, AMD, the ARM RISC-based vendors like Qualcomm or other silicon can use Thunderbolt 3 as a high-throughput external connectivity option. This could be a way to establish an even playing field for all of the silicon vendors who are providing processor power for all the various computing devices out there.

At least Intel and AMD are taking steps in the right direction towards the idea of mixing portability and power for computing setups based on regular-computer platforms. It may also make this kind of performance become affordable for most people.

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