January 3, 2019  3:18 PM

Cliff’s law

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

A new year begins, and the search continues for whoever was behind the Gatwick drones fiasco that grounded hundreds of flights over the Christmas period.

Our first port of call would be Chris Grayling, the transport secretary who always has a mischievous glint in his eye: the look of someone who has never quite been able to take anything seriously in his life and would probably get a kick out of doing TV interviews about the investigation between stints operating his machinery. But considering how tied up he must have been lately with another prank – awarding a hypothetical freight contract to a company that doesn’t have any ships – we can only assume he wouldn’t have had the time.

Grayling himself has suggested environmental protesters could be behind the stunt, which would be a quite intensely boring grand reveal, so we won’t give that much thought.

Was it someone who had it in for that couple who got wrongly accused just before Christmas Eve? Or the Russians, who just can’t seem to leave us alone? Or a young genius hacker who nobody will know how to ethically punish? Still all quite underwhelming finales.

What if it was someone closer to home? Someone with a noted passion for drones and chaos… He wouldn’t, would he?

December 5, 2018  2:29 PM

Mission: Interpolation

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Tom Cruise has posted a video alongside Mission: Impossible – Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie, encouraging fans to adjust their television settings to improve their viewing experience of the film, and we ache for when we had that enthusiasm.

It’s normal to feel uncomfortable watching Tom Cruise staring down a camera lens at you for a quick chat. We’re still trying to work out if the act has left us brainwashed, but we do know the nuances of frames in a shot of an action film we didn’t bother to catch at the cinema isn’t going to prompt a Google search on how to switch off interpolation. The difference would be so lost on us.

The setting is default on most high-definition televisions and apparently makes films look like they were shot on a cheap camera, causing what is referred to as the “soap-opera effect”. God forbid we confuse EastEnders, a decades-old concept still being flogged to this day, with anything starring Tom Cruise.

The way we watch films has devolved. The human eye has adapted to low-bandwidth streams of straight-to-Netflix Adam Sandler jaunts and our brains can only process brief Saturday Night Live sketches on YouTube before needing an hour-long nap. If they make yet more Mission: Impossible films – and they will – they should shoot them on iPhones. We promise we won’t care.

November 29, 2018  5:01 PM

Formula 1’s favourite IT boy

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Lewis Hamilton has used his appearance at an HPE Discover event in Madrid to step out of his little car and take an unexpected walk down memory lane, regaling the tech crowd with tales from his past life carrying out test runs on mainframes for his dad’s IT support company.

This is the first we’ve heard of the Formula 1 driver’s IT heritage, but that’ll be because we try to avoid him at all costs – an endeavour made all too disruptive to daily life since 14ft adverts featuring his half-naked body started rolling around London on the side of its buses earlier this year.

But at least if Tommy Hilfiger decides to fund another double-decker Hamilton procession ever again, we’ll know this time we’re looking at the torso of an IT grunt come good, right?

Hold on, though. Is this just another PR stunt? Pilloried for mocking his own nephew’s choice of outfit last Christmas, he reacted by parading him around Disneyland dressed as Rapunzel. What if this time Hamilton’s said something awful about computers, and is trying to make up for it with this story about a father-and-son tech team? Our verdict: don’t trust him. There’ll be a deleted Instagram post somewhere of him saying IT is “for sad acts”.

November 22, 2018  10:04 AM

There’s a human in my florist

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

The season of festive advertising is upon us, and this year’s key theme is Guilt Olympics. Whether it be Visa, John Lewis or Iceland, firms are lining up to tell you not to even think about enjoying Christmas before making some very modern moral considerations. Thank God Google’s here to clean up your mess.

While no app yet exists to magically help you afford pianos for all your little dormant Elton Johns or scan shampoo ingredients for palm oil without forcing your brain into a coma, Visa’s wish that you support your high street has been made more viable by Google teaming up with local-shop inventory startup NearSt.

The objective is to encourage consumers to buy all their gifts the good, old-fashioned way by providing a search function that brings up information about nearby stockists and prices, much to the total dismay of Ebenezer Bezos.

This is the exact behaviour Visa has asked of you, vouchsafing you that feel-good factor you’ve craved since learning how lonely the real-life butcher, baker and flower arranger are in its advert. You can only assume the mere sight of another person will save their lives.

Christmas can now only be spoiled by the Joneses’ delivery of pianos and Katona-scale Iceland banquet. “We might buy online,” they’ll shrug, “but at least we’re not orangutan-murdering scum.”

November 15, 2018  5:18 PM

Raabbit in your headlights

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Dominic Raab’s resignation from his stint as Brexit secretary will presumably see him evade all accountability for the promises he recently gave the tech industry about the benefits of leaving the European Union, leaving us on tenterhooks over the opportunities he said it “may” create (“if we get it right”).

We now have to fight on without those reassuring words, and pray Raab’s sacrifice will go down in the history books as a crucial yolk in a traitor-free omelette that protects the brave new world he’s never necessarily been able to outline but still has a feeling could maybe fluke its way into reality.

But there’s a reason for our blind faith in Raab; a bond that can’t be broken. It was at a technology conference he did his biggest whoopsie, and for better or worse, whether or not his baseless ifs and ands about the future of our country evaporate into thin air, we have a responsibility for this man. He publicly debased himself on our watch; nervous in the headlights of UK tech journalism’s discerning eyes; a dome of bloviating bravado finally collapsing like melting chocolate under our burning caramel scepticism.

The Dover-Calais gaffe is on us. We may have even caused him abandoning his post and throwing in all sense of duty, dignity or desire to just keep winging it altogether. We are all Dominic Raab.

November 8, 2018  2:22 PM

Samsung phone folds like a cheap suit

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Samsung has unveiled something resembling a VTech learning toy to try to maintain its foothold in the smartphone market.

Commentators humoured the announcement, though, referring to the bog-standard tablet it folds out into as a “wow factor”. Surely they only mean that in the sense that a nan would say “wow” at a grandchild shooting her in the face with a Nerf gun.

Who says “wow” at anything being folded or unfolded? Nobody’s ever pulled a map out of their pocket and been distracted by a passer-by going “wow!” That we can now do that with bits of electricity is frankly the least the Helix Flexi Ruler generation expects.

We think Samsung knows it, too. Let’s face it, the room went dark when the audience was shown the thing in its closed form, and that’s because what’s being flogged here is a Nintendo DS for short-sighted Candy Crush commuters.

If an infant had come up on stage, grabbed it and smeared jam all over it, everyone would have sportingly cheered. If that had happened at the iPhone launch, the audience would have campaigned for that child to be expedited to Guantanamo Bay.

Nobody cares about a flexible screen when the product design itself bends time backwards to the fusty clamshell era. If this is really the best we can do, Steve Jobs will be bending in his grave.

November 1, 2018  6:36 PM

The revolution will not be pasteurised

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

It’s been almost a year since Downtime talked emojis, but from far-right tool bag Jair Bolsonaro seizing power in Brazil to a supermarket magazine editor thinking it’s normal to reply to a freelancer’s pitch by joking about slaughtering all vegans, we don’t know where else to turn for politically correct content. Let’s take a look at our iOS 12.1 emoji additions and see if we can find solace somewhere in their gammon-enraging inclusivity.

Where better to start than the black man with ginger moustache? Now there’s an emoji ready to provoke opponents of “political correctness gone mad” if ever we’ve seen one. These days, anyone can be ginger, which you just know won’t go down well with the kind of people who think anyone can voice a South Asian cartoon character without modern society rejecting it as minstrelsy.

Such emoji newcomers are a small but savourable victory for those of us who just don’t really go in for excluding, marginalising or insulting the socially disadvantaged or discriminated against. We’ll probably never need to call on him, but we’ll love knowing he’s there.

In these scary, reactionary times, may our emojis continue to flourish as our ever-diversifying rhetorical warpaint. The fascists can take as many countries as they like, but as long as those nice hippies are knocking about in that Unicode Consortium office, a resistance will find its home online; and it will be strewn with transgender remoaner nazar amulets, pansexual communist peacocks and avocado-infused, George-Soros-funded, vegan cupcakes.

October 25, 2018  4:11 PM

Paint me like one of your French GANs

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

World-renowned auction house Christie’s has offered up its first ever artwork created by an algorithm, but as usual with artificial intelligence (AI), there’s an elephant in the room: it’s crap.

But any criticism of the portrait is by no means a dig at the AI itself. It’s only doing its job. It’s the Paris-based collective that put it to use. The point of the experiment is to prove human creativity can be mimicked, and it clearly has been – just only to the extent of that old Spanish lady who made a fresco of Jesus look like a monkey.

Our saving grace might actually turn out to be our own shortcomings in making technology good enough to render us obsolete. Take Sophia the Robot, for example, which we all pretend to be so impressed with but is basically just Alexa in a dress. It’s programmed to gush over the creativity of humans, a species that’s not even given it legs yet. You won’t get anywhere with that attitude.

Mercifully, none of us really have a clue what we’re doing, and that messy DNA will be everywhere in AI no matter how sophisticated it gets. That could save us.

The real value of that half-shredded Banksy piece isn’t in whatever message he intended to make, but rather its symbolism of even the most enigmatic of humans getting shown up like a dad replacing an ink cartridge the moment they try to collaborate with machines.

October 17, 2018  6:45 AM

A smartphone for your smartphone?

Clare McDonald Profile: Clare McDonald
Mobile, Mobile devices, Palm, Smartphones, Technology

As if smartphone devices aren’t already taking over our lives enough, a US company has launched a miniature phone to act as a companion to your main device. In a world where smartphones are becoming as big as tablets, this tiny credit-card sized smartphone, called Palm, is meant to save you from having to go through the hassle of looking at your main phone. It doesn’t have as many features as your average smartphone, so no headphone jack, but it does have two cameras so if you see a cute a animal on the tube or want to take a selfie you don’t have to go through the hassle of whipping out your actual phone to take a picture.

It isn’t meant to work as a standalone phone – it is meant to mirror what your real phone is doing without you having to actually look at your real phone – so the under £300 price tag is not as appealing as first thought.

While it may save many from the repetitive strain injury that comes from trying to use one hand to operate a smartphone as big as your face, what it won’t save you from is spending money on a piece of technology that no one asked for.

Personally it seems equal to buying a dog a hamster.

At least these smartphones won’t need to call ahead to cafes to ensure their emotional support devices are allowed on the premises.

October 11, 2018  3:31 PM

Algorithm gets cancelled

Ryan Priest Ryan Priest Profile: Ryan Priest

Amazon has had to rein in the artificial intelligence it was using to help vet job applicants after picking up on its male chauvinist tendencies.

As is the case with its human bigot counterparts, the recruitment engine’s evident hatred of women was a learned behaviour. Most of the applications over the last 10 years came from men and led to the algorithm assuming they were better candidates – which, in its defence, is a better excuse for misogyny than, say, having tiny, little hands.

Isn’t AI meant to work better than us instead of reinforcing the most glaringly unsavoury character flaws of our species?

If this carries on, more of our jobs will be under threat than first feared. Think about all those harrowing guests daytime TV rolls out to facilitate bizarrely balanced debates about topics like transphobic billboards or homophobic bakeries. If AI is just going to mirror how low humans can stoop, it would be cheaper for This Morning to start giving airtime to a machine that thinks the #MeToo movement is a lot of hysterical whinging rather than relentlessly tickling Ann Widdecombe.

For now, though, TERF strongman Graham Linehan must step aside. Easily as offensive and funnier by default, Amazon’s sexist AI is society’s hottest free-speech enfant terrible.

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