This Week in Tech News: Facebook drama, Xbox controllers on US Navy ships, and more

As always, it’s been a crazy week in tech and tech-related news. This week, we learned the US Navy is using Xbox 360 controllers on their ships, everyone is mad at Facebook about stealing their data, and lots more.

Check out DGiT host Alli Goldberg’s latest rundown of all things digital in the video above, and keep scrolling for more in-depth coverage of the topics.

Macy’s will let you design your own room in VR with its upcoming app


Sometimes it is hard to imagine how furniture will look in your house before you buy it. This week, Macy’s department store announced plans to add a way for people to use an app and VR headsets to design a simulated version of their room and place possible new furniture items in that space.

The app is available in three Macy’s locations and will be added to 60 locations in fall 2018. It will let home owners map out the basic dimensions and shape of their space with a tablet, pick any furniture products from Macy’s selection, and put them in that virtual room. Customers can even go all in and use VR headsets to get an even better look at how chairs, tables, and other items look in their room.

Macy’s also plans to launch an AR feature in its mobile app in April, which will let users virtually place furniture products in their real rooms with their smartphone. Soon, we may do away with retail showrooms for furniture completely.

Xbox controllers can be found on US Navy ships

The United States Navy is not getting into the video game business, but it is using some video game hardware for use in its ships. Specifically, it was revealed this week that the USS Colorado, the Navy’s latest attack submarine, actually uses an Xbox 360 controller from Microsoft to control some of its hardware.

So, why use a 12 year old video game controller on an all new submarine? Well, not only does the Navy save money using the gamepad, but it also offers a control scheme  typical crew members might be familiar with already.

The controller is used to handle the USS Colorado’s photonic masts, which lets crew members see above the water. Yes, that’s similiar to the standard, old-fashioned periscope. The custom made joysticks used on other ships cost about $38,000, well below the Xbox 360 controller’s $50 (or even less) retail price.

An AI can host its own podcast

Many people think artificial intelligence could threaten to the human race, slowly taking over the jobs that regular people currently do. As it turns out, even hosting a podcast could be handled by an AI. James Ryan, a PhD student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has created an AI host called SHELDON, who runs its own podcast called Sheldon County.

Here’s how it is supposed to work. SHELDON, working with another program called Hennepin, tells stories about fictional counties filled residents who each have their own story to tell. The listener checks out the first episode of the podcast, and SHELDON picks out one of these counties for you. You should be able to listen to the stories of the people in these counties in future episodes, all made just for you with this AI program.

Ryan has released a few examples of these AI podcasts, but hopes to launch a beta version with the full experience in early 2019,

Facebook had a very bad week

There’s always been lots of fear that companies using Facebook could misuse the data it collects from the social network’s over 2 billion users. This week, those fears seemed to be confirmed, as we learned that a simple personality quiz was used to access the data of millions of Facebook users.

In 2015, a company called Global Science Research worked with a professor named Aleksandr Kogan to create a personality quiz which, in theory, was supposed to collect data from 270,000 Facebook users. Unfortunately, the quiz also accessed data from all of the users’ friends on Facebook, which means people who did not take the quiz still had their data mined by this app. All of that info was later sold to consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked on President Trump’s successful election campaign in 2016.

Facebook found out about all of this, which was in violation of its own privacy rules. It deleted Kogan’s Facebook account and his quiz app and blocked Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook access. Facebook also asked the company to delete all of the data it had, which it claims it did. However, a former CA employee, Christopher Wylie, recently revealed that the company did not delete that data after all and was still using it (officially, CA claims it has indeed deleted that info).

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, facing a huge drop in both the trust and the stock price of the network, admitted mistakes were made, and pledged to put in more restrictions on these kinds of data miners. It will also show users a tool at the top of their News Feed soon which will show apps they have used, along with a way to pull the permissions and take your data away.

Google wants to help promote and fund news media

In the fight against “fake news”, Google says it wants to help promote real news. It officially announced the Google News Initiative this week, to help online media gain revenue beyond just simple banner adds.

One of the ways it will do this is making it easier for people to subscribe to online news sites with premium content. If you want to sign up for these sites the normal way, you have to keep track of different payments and passwords. Google is now allowing access to a select number of premium news sites with just your Google account. If such a site has support for your Google account, all you should have to do is click “Subscribe” and you are done. No need to remember multiple usernames or passwords, or multiple credit cards.

Google will also highlight results from your Google account subscriptions when searching for news topics, making it easier to access that premium content. The Google News Initiative, which has a $300 million budget, will also show more trustworthy news sites on top of search results when news about a topic breaks.

Uber self-driving car hits and kills a person

As we move closer and closer to an era were self-driving cars will be the norm, something like this had to happen. This week, an Uber self-driving car in Tempe, Arizona hit and killed a woman while the car was travelling in autonomous mode. The woman, Elaine Hertzberg , was the first pedestrian to be hit and killed by a self-driving vehicle.

There was a backup driver on board the Uber vehicle when the accident occured. It happened at night, and Hertzberg was crossing a street outside of a crosswalk. Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir says that Uber itself “would likely not be at fault in this accident”, but that charges could possibly be filed against the backup driver. Uber has suspended its self-driving program in the meantime.

China’s social credit system is odd

Finally we have something straight out of a Black Mirror episode. China’s Communist Party is rolling out a new “social credit” system which will ban residents from using planes, buses, trains and other services if they do things the government dislikes.

Things like not paying your bills or even promoting so-called “unhealthy” ideas online may put you on the banned list. The bans could be put in place for as long as a year or more. All of this is part of an overall plan to monitor China’s residents and place scores on each person based on their purchases, online activity, and their interaction with the government. Creepy.

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