Social media was created for connection, but language barriers can limit how far that connection stretches. The Indian microblogging app Koo helps bust those barriers with a feature that makes automatic translation seamless and easy—even for obscure languages. In India, which nods to 22 distinct languages in its constitution, the social media platform is earning raves for its ability to retain the writer’s intended meaning and tone. With a robust slate of future features planned, Koo aims to become the premier microblogging platform of India—and beyond.
34th Most Influential Project of 2022
Can technology help hold those who commit war crimes accountable? That’s the aim of Project Dokaz Alliance, which brings together the international criminal law community with pioneers in the Web3 ecosystem to develop secure and resilient solutions for accountability in Ukraine. The group’s game-changing debut deliverable? The world’s first decentralized digital evidence package presented to the International Criminal Court. Submitted in June, it documents Russia’s bombing of five schools in Ukraine. Finding digital evidence of the bombings was easy—the web was awash in images, videos and social media posts. And the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine also launched an online portal to collect evidence. But to use those assets in court, the alliance had to rely on blockchain and provenance tech to securely preserve each digital file while also maintaining its integrity. The alliance includes Starling Lab for Data Integrity, U.S. asset protection firm Hala Systems and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
The social media space is fickle. So while TikTok may rule right now, get ready to hear a lot about Niche. Created by a team that cut its teeth in senior leadership positions at Tinder, Bumble and Facebook, Niche allows people to form communities around shared interests and topics—think: Swifties, South Asian skateboarders—with those groups existing as decentralized autonomous organizations on the blockchain. That means, rather than the company relying on ad revenue, members essentially own, control and monetize the stuff they create. Each “club” has its own unique tokens that accrue value over time and can be used for commerce, event admission and membership status or exchanged for real currency. The platform makes its money when it helps members make money. What makes Niche different, per Niche execs? Social media has users. Niche has owner-members. A beta version of the Web3 social network debuted in August—and the company has already pulled in US$1.8 million in pre-seed funding.
Alphanumeric passwords aren’t just a hassle to remember—they also leave users vulnerable. Face it: Password1234 isn’t going to keep hackers away. And the Silicon Valley giants are finally doing something about it. Microsoft, Google and Apple jointly agreed to expand support for a passwordless sign-in standard, created by the FIDO Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium, across their consumer devices and platforms. The expanded standards-based capabilities will give websites and apps the ability to offer an end-to-end passwordless option: Users will sign in through the same action that they routinely take to unlock their devices—a simple verification of their fingerprint or face or a device PIN. The move could signal easier entrée into a safer web—and marks a sign of the times, with one estimate putting global biometrically authenticated payments at USD$1.2 trillion by 2027.
On a platform as diverse, vibrant and open to free expression as TikTok, it’s only natural that users should be able to show up however they like—even if it’s in animated form. In June, the ridiculously popular short-video app introduced the ability to create highly customizable avatars that move in tandem with the user’s own movements. But it’s TikTok’s commitment to inclusivity that sets these digital doppelgängers apart. Deferring to its Creator Diversity Collective—a consortium of influencers and creators who are people of color—TikTok noted the great importance of including certain characteristics in its avatars: hair texture, for example, or skin tone–not just color.
Ever since Google Glass was rolled out nine years ago, tech innovators of all sizes have tried (and often failed) to develop eyewear that could function as a computer. But Indian startup Nimo Planet saw the pandemic-driven changes in how people work and set its sights on a new user base: all those people looking to work at home, in coffee shops or even outside—without a laptop or even a smartphone. Rolling out its beta version earlier this year, the company says the Wi-Fi-enabled smart glasses are the first capable of displaying up to six virtual screens at once—like a moving computer array only the user can see. Designed to handle average workday tasks, the face-based computer is a nod to the way we work now: remotely, on the go and with a need for serious flexibility.
If you’ve ever navigated an unfamiliar location using Google Maps, you know the functionality is no-frills: a simple map, accompanied by simple instructions. But it seems the U.S. tech giant wasn’t willing to stop at mere wayfinding. The new immersive view function in its Maps app—announced in May and slated for rollout later in the year—creates a hyper-detailed digital model of such cities as London, Los Angeles and Tokyo (with more to come). The goal is to help people virtually scout their destinations: Soar over Westminster, taking in a single day’s time lapse to gauge the typical crowds near Big Ben; or wander into a seafood restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood to get a sense, as Google puts it, of the “vibe” before making a reservation. Finding your way in a strange place was Maps’ initial purpose—but losing yourself there may well be its new one.
The future, it seems, will take place (at least partly) within the immersive virtual world known as the metaverse. But as with any new frontier, the still-nascent digital realm is presently a lawless place, one as yet unregulated by common operational agreements between organizations. And many of the synergies between technologies needed to build the metaverse currently have no framework in place. The Metaverse Standards Forum hosted by Khronos Group seeks to change that, organizing a coalition of tech giants—including Adobe, Microsoft, Meta, Qualcomm, Sony and many more—to adopt an ethos of cross-company synchronization. Announced in June, the forum “aims to foster consensus-based cooperation … to define and align requirements and priorities for metaverse standards—accelerating their availability and reducing duplication of effort across the industry.”
Ikea was at the vanguard of offering augmented reality (AR) shopping features, as one of the first retailers to let consumers test-drive virtual sofas and bookshelves in their home. But that buggy initial outing from the ubiquitous Swedish furniture emporium has gotten a serious upgrade with Ikea Kreativ, now powered by AI neural networks and computer vision technologies. Users simply upload a few photos of their space, and the technology automatically creates interactive, editable 3D replicas. It allows users to “erase” their existing furniture and virtually try out new furniture, allowing them to plan a revamp with a completely blank slate. Unleashed in June, the app lets users break out their inner interior designer—changing wall colors, turning lamps on and off, or placing AR items atop other items. (How would that lamp look on your new end table?) Once users have created their perfect room, they can add products to their cart, save their ideas for later and even share their brilliant works for vetting.
Looking to bridge the gap between interactive (but resource-intensive) human-led docent tours and passive audio tours, a growing number of museums are experimenting with chatbots. But the National Gallery Singapore, long a leader in integrating tech, has taken that digital transformation one step further. Between November 2020 and September 2021, visitors were invited to converse with the museum’s chatbot, Arthena, through their smartphones. The brainchild of the National University of Singapore’s Institute of Data Science, Arthena playfully quizzed patrons about the works they were seeing (using art experts’ prewritten questions) and offered interesting insights and facts about various pieces. But the patrons’ actions were the real data being collected: By gathering and analyzing information around the ways in which visitors interacted with Arthena, the researchers were able to build ArtQuest, a program capable of automatically generating art-related questions to further visitors’ engagement with the works being viewed.