Downtime


October 16, 2019  2:51 PM

Plush giraffe perturbation

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

A robot hand has been taught by OpenAI to successfully solve a Rubik’s Cube in an average time of four minutes.

“So what?” you ask, being the unbearable Rubik’s Cube expert you are. It’s true, mere mortals have been known to make light work of the puzzle in less than four minutes, and it was only last year a machine with zero chill did it in under a second. Well if you’d just let us finish, we’ll tell you why this one’s special.

You see, the thing about this robot is that during the testing stage, developers discovered it could withstand what’s known as plush giraffe perturbation. Finally, we have your attention.

That’s right. For the first time on record, an automated hand has overcome the challenging conditions of being nuzzled by a soft toy giraffe to crack Hungarian sculptor Ernő Rubik’s ubiquitous 3D puzzle. Sincerely, we never thought we’d see the day.

It’s funny to think that before 1974, the Rubik’s Cube wasn’t a thing. It’s a bit like popular phrases. It’s easy to assume the classic mithering phrase, “We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t…” has been around since Roman times, but obviously we’ve only had it since we put a man on the moon. The next generation will think the same about “We can solve a Rubik’s Cube under plush giraffe perturbation, but we can’t…” And here you are beholding its coinage.

October 9, 2019  12:46 PM

Rebekah Vardy’s out of the party

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Coleen Rooney has detailed the detective work that went into unmasking Rebekah Vardy as the alleged mole of her private Instagram account.

Adopting the standard celebrity statement release protocol of sharing a screenshot of some text bashed out on the Notes app, she explained how she devised her plan. She blocked everyone but Rebekah, her prime suspect, from viewing her Instagram Stories, then fabricated news stories about herself to see if they continued to get leaked to Brexity comic book The Sun. And, in Coleen’s words, “you know what, they did!” That’s it, really.

Cue the most fascinating mutation of social media: the pally comments from random public figures. England women’s team manager Phil Neville replied on Instagram with a simple prayer emoji, while notorious reality TV bully and OG WAG Danielle Lloyd opted for a trio of rat emojis.

It’s the highlight of the app. Nothing makes you feel better during your morning poo than perusing, say, the digital guestbook of vulgar inner-circle solidarity extended to Ellen DeGeneres for her defence of hanging out with George W Bush (four applause emojis from former footballer Robbie Keane). You never knew you were morally superior to Robbie Keane before this morning, did you? They all poo, too.


October 2, 2019  3:57 PM

Mark Zuckerberg’s existential threat

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When we heard that some of Mark Zuckerberg’s Q&A sessions with his Facebook massive had been released by The Verge, we hardly expected to witness a grand reveal of them all kicking off their shoes and letting their cloven hooves breathe free. It’s only an audio leak.

But hold the Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce: anyone hoping to feast on the bones of a hot, new tech scandal will be left gulping with all the torment of the Zuckerberg homestead’s Hungarian sheepdog on National Prime Rib Day. It’s business as usual here, and scraps of character from the Zuck are in characteristically short supply.

Dredging the transcript for anything remotely colourful from the man in grey, we notice he briefly livens up when asked about the likes of Elizabeth Warren’s bid to break up the big tech companies: “If someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.” Steady on, Mark!

This leak, then, primarily offers the upsetting mental image of Zuckerberg oiled up to the nines in a lycra bodysuit, doing his stretches ahead of a hypothetical wrestling match with the US government. It should serve as a warning to the Gods of Silicon Valley that while they continue to evade accountability at all costs, they’re in danger of becoming so boring they cease to exist.


September 26, 2019  12:00 PM

Alexa takes the L

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Amazon has revealed it will soon be introducing an option for users to change its Alexa virtual assistant’s voice to that of self-appointed Kangol ambassador Samuel L Jackson.

The announcement comes hot on the heels of a Channel 4 report that claims parents are now using Alexa to read their children bedtime stories, conjuring thoughts of a near future of toddlers being told the tale of The very hungry caterpillar with the menacing panache of Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 recital from Pulp Fiction.   

It’s hard to say if this might yield any visible consequences. For years, CBeebies’ Bedtime Stories has showcased all manner of celebrities, ranging from Olly Murs to Fiz from Corrie. So far, this hasn’t resulted in any reports of children tweeting about imaginary terror attacks from the back office of Selfridges or unfairly berating Tyrone, but maybe some early years exposure to Samuel L Jackson’s no-nonsense attitude will do our young some good.

If we’re going to insist on using these devices to raise our children, an edgy upgrade on the default voice of Alexa will be crucial. They’re arriving into a world of right-wing panto villains, baying for their blood for so much as mentioning climate change. If all they can channel in response is the twee energy of Alexa singing English country garden, they’re going to get eaten alive.


September 18, 2019  1:39 PM

Board yourself before you bore yourself

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Gatwick has announced it will become the UK’s first airport to use facial recognition cameras for passenger boarding on a permanent basis, condemning those of us who aren’t quite yet in sync with the technology to kicking off our holidays with an aura of exasperating inadequacy.

In what must be one of the most tasteless lyrics to come from a generation of innocuous, plinky-plonky indie pop bands, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig once sang, “You got the luck of a Kennedy,” and we certainly felt that during our inaugural facial recognition experience at JFK last year.

The process is undeniably straightforward, but that’s probably what psychs us out. “Even the oldies are breezing through, look,” you think, as the machine counts you down to place your passport on the scanner – then you repeatedly remove it too soon and get ushered into a second queue with all the other divs who need to be seen to by a good old-fashioned sour-faced homo sapien.

Having self-boarding in our own backyard is our chance to finally master modern air travel. It shouldn’t be a big deal anymore. The boiled sweet days are over, and as much as you think it might be cute, there’s no charm in fumbling about like a skittish amateur from an old episode of Airline.


September 11, 2019  4:00 PM

That don’t impress Ma much

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Over to Hangzhou now, where the richest man in China has thrown himself the mother of all retirement bashes by performing in front of an audience of 60,000 employees.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma donned a studded leather jacket and shades as he “sang” You raise me up with incoming company CEO Daniel Zhang, evoking treasured memories of those X Factor final performances where they roll out the rejects from the audition stages. But after 20 years at the helm, the former English teacher can be let off for his indulgences. You didn’t boo Bob Geldof at Live Aid, did you?

Whose head wouldn’t be in the clouds if they had Ma’s life? Everything must seem so boring unless you’re having a sing-song with your mates. In a recent talk with Elon Musk, he responded to the idea of humanity being a biological bootloader for digital superintelligence by requesting they “talk about something fun”.

What about the prospect of becoming a multi-planet species, then? Musk gave it a try: “This is the first time in the history of Earth that it’s been possible to extend life beyond. Let us secure the future of consciousness as quickly as possible.” Nah, not interested. Ma just changed the subject to the Himalayas: “When the elevator’s ready, I will go and have a look.”

Go and get the guitar.


September 5, 2019  11:24 AM

The wrong trainers

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Now, don’t get us wrong: we’re as jittery about living in a future of wearable technology as the next milquetoast loser. Some nights we can’t even sleep due to the nagging noughties fear that our mobile’s slowly doing a mini-Chernobyl on our head whenever we make more than a five-minute call. But what about a pair of smart trainers that can unlace themselves?

Dealing with shoelaces has always been a gymnastic ball-ache for us, to the point that the first time we heard that rumour about Marilyn Manson getting some ribs removed, we assumed that would obviously be the reason why.

But Nike’s Adapt Huaraches are here to save us from the eccentric surgical path of rib removal. A simple command to Siri is said to release these new sneakers from your feet in an instant, and we can’t foretell any specific doomsday that might come from that.

Technology is famously only a problem when it falls into the wrong hands. Nobody’s ever mentioned feet. There’s the Wallace and Gromit film that fires off some pretty stark warnings about legs, but they were manipulated by a fictional evil penguin, which we don’t have many equivalents of in the real world…

Keep Dominic Cummings away from them, actually. Just in case he programs them to smash up a Polish deli or something.


August 28, 2019  9:43 AM

Don’t upset the Apple Card

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Apple has reiterated its searing contempt for the hoi polloi that uses its products by releasing a physical credit card you’re not supposed to put in your wallet.

The titanium card is, in Apple’s swashbuckling words, for “if you find a place that doesn’t take Apple Pay yet” – a scenario made to sound like something that in itself should induce projectile vomiting.

We now have the backwards prospect of making adjustments to our lives to accommodate Apple’s whimsical releases, which must be the realisation of the ultimate dream for Tim Cook and the gang.

AirPods cost £159 and all we ever hear about is people losing them. That would be because they have to just hang untethered out of our lumpy ears. But that doesn’t seem to put anyone off.

Do AirPods offer clues as to how we’re meant to carry this Apple Card? What else can Apple get us to do? Will it soon be considered reasonable to balance things on our heads? What if Apple suggests its cards can get scratched on contact with hair? Or smudged on contact with skin? Is the endgame us shaving and skinning ourselves to fit around Apple’s increasingly precious objects? Are we just annoyed that the MacBook Pro we write this on is badgering us for software updates? Mind your business.


August 15, 2019  12:12 PM

God is a fridge

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

A teenage girl has turned to her family’s smart fridge in a desperate quest to reach Twitter followers, after her mum confiscated her electronic devices one by one.

The 15-year-old, known to her online friends as Dorothy, was initially stopped from tweeting from her Ariana Grande fan account when she had her phone taken away. So she took to her Nintendo DS to update her followers instead.

When the mum identified that loophole, tweeting that she’d “seen that Dorothy has been using Twitter on her Nintendo”, she shut that down, too. Dorothy then resumed makeshift communications from her Wii U, until – you’ve guessed it – this by now mythical, Pac-Manesque parent grabbed the final device and left her daughter with nothing.

The walls were closing in on our protagonist. The phone was nowhere to be found, the DS had been snuffed out, and we can only pray the mum didn’t go full Kirstie Allsopp on the Wii U. If Dorothy couldn’t tweet, her hard-earned follower count was sure to dwindle. The feed sat dormant. It had lost its author to a brutal programme of censorship. But then came hope:

“I do not know if this is going to tweet I am talking to my fridge what the heck my mom confiscated all of my electronics again.”


August 7, 2019  11:54 AM

8chan history

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

As we watched a former porn site merchant’s video statement, him sat there in front of a Benjamin Franklin backdrop to the sound of a military bugle call, defending 8chan’s white supremacist propaganda from his pig farm in the Philippines, we couldn’t help but marvel at another darling of Donald’s Trump’s America.

Jim Watkins is the owner of nefarious message board 8chan, a website originally created for people who found 4chan a bit too tame. He’s feeling sorry for himself because his Wild West hotbed of hate speech (rebranded as free speech, butter wouldn’t melt) was driven offline due to its role in promoting mass shootings.

Watkins, unshackled by things like dignity and shame, defiantly claims 8chan is “one of the last independent companies that offers a place you may write down your thoughts, free from having to worry about whether they are offensive to one group or another”. And now it’s gone, you say? Good!

Who started letting this idea through that human adults should not have to worry about how their online behaviour affects others? Why is this absolute nut, asking where users can go now to spout their racist and homophobic bile, being so tenderly echoed by the BBC? Isn’t it more pertinent to ask why they can’t grow up and stop being such poisonous little freaks?


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