Stuff South Africa South Africa's Technology News Hub Fri, 12 Apr 2024 12:50:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Stuff South Africa South Africa's Technology News Hub clean Could a video game developer win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Sat, 13 Apr 2024 08:00:00 +0000 In October 2016, the Swedish Academy announced that it was awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to the singer-songwriter Bob Dylan for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. The decision sent out shockwaves: for the first time, a musician had received the most prestigious literary award on the planet. It sparked debate, with many questioning the decision and even sarcastic suggestions that novelists could aspire to winning a Grammy.

The controversy fed into much-needed debates on the boundary between poetry and song, but the question of what constitutes literature is much broader. Does it mean the same as it did in 1901 when the first Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded?

High and low culture

These questions date back far beyond 2016. In the late 1950s, a group of professors from the University of Birmingham founded a new interdisciplinary area of study, called cultural studies, in order to ask new questions: What was the role of TV and other mass media in cultural development? Is there a justification for distinguishing high and low culture? What is the relationship between culture and power?

These questions are all still relevant to current debates around literature. Often, the word “literary” is a status symbol, a seal of approval to distinguish “high” culture from more vulgar or less valuable “low” forms of culture. Comics, for example, were not invited to join the club until recently, thanks in part to a rebranding under the more respectable guise of “graphic novels”.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, literature displays “excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest”. It seems that an artist like Bob Dylan can take home the Nobel prize thanks to literature’s defining feature of “excellence of form or expression”, which is not strictly limited to the written word.

But how do we account for other language-based forms of expression? If performed works such as theatre or songwriting can be considered literature, where is the limit?

Word play: text-based video games

According to data from video game data consultancy Newzoo, more than 3 billion people play video games worldwide – almost half of the world’s population. In Spain alone, 77% of young people play videogames, making them a massively relevant form of culture. But what does this have to do with “excellence of form or expression”? To answer this question we have to look back several decades.

When the first video games were developed in the 1950s, two distinct genres emerged: one was action oriented (such as the pioneering 1958 game Tennis for Two), and the other more text based. The original written games, known as “interactive fiction”, were made up exclusively of text, and the player’s job was to read and make decisions that would determine the game’s outcome using a keyboard.

Screenshot of the game _Mystery House_ on Apple II. The colour white was created by combining green and purple, producing white in the centre, but into the other two colours at the edges.
Screenshot of the game Mystery House on Apple II. The colour white was created by combining green and purple, producing white in the centre, but bleeding into the other two colours at the edges. Wikimedia Commons

The inclusion of images in adventure games would not arrive until 1980, when Mystery House became the first “graphic adventure” game. These would reach their heyday in the 1990s: famous examples include the first two Monkey Island games (1990, 1991), Day of the Tentacle (1993), Full Throttle (1995), and Grim Fandango (1998), though there were many others. Despite technological advances, these games inherited several features from interactive fiction, including the predominant role of text.

The experience of playing one of these titles is not so different from that of a book: reading, pauses, the possibility of backtracking, and so on. The player spends most of their time in dialogue with various characters in search of information, stories, or even banter and jokes that are irrelevant to the game’s progress, much like footnotes or subplots.

Several classic adventure games even have direct links to literature: The Abbey of Crime (1987) is a Spanish adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, while the legendary insult sword fighting of The Secret of Monkey Island was written by science fiction author Orson Scott Card. In Myst (1993), the gameplay itself revolves around two books.

Literature on the screen: “story-rich” games

In more recent years, a new sub-genre of adventure games – known as “story-rich” games – has become popular thanks to independent creators and producers. In Papers, Please (2013), a border policeman in a fictional dictatorial regime deals with terrible moral dilemmas on a daily basis. In Firewatch (2016), players take the role of a forest ranger who investigates a conspiracy by walkie-talkie. In Return of the Obra Dinn (2018), the player must reconstruct a tragedy on the high seas with the help of an incomplete book and a peculiar compass. In all these cases, gameplay and visuals take a back seat to strong narratives.

Screenshot from the video game _Papers, Please_.
Screenshot from the video game Papers, Please. Papers, Please

A quintessential example is The Stanley Parable (2011), where the player takes the role of a worker in a strangely deserted office. They have to explore several corridors while trying unsuccessfully to interact with their surroundings, accompanied by the voice of an enigmatic narrator. Upon reaching a room with two open doors, the voiceover states that Stanley “entered the door on his left”.

The player can choose to follow the instructions or disobey, provoking the wrath of the narrator much like in the denouement of Miguel de Unamuno’s 1914 novel Fog, where the main character speaks directly to the author.

Read More: PlayStation unveils Community Game Help, crowdsources user gameplay

Each decision then opens up new paths leading to dozens of possible endings, similar to a “choose your own adventure” book. Its fragmentary and disordered story – as well as its playful spirit – is reminiscent of Julio Cortázar’s 1963 novel Hopscotch. The experience of playing the game is marked by postmodern literary features – as described by critics like Mikhail Bakhtin or Linda Hutcheon – including metafiction, intertextuality and parody.

One of its creators – Davey Wreden, a critical studies graduate – also created The Beginner’s Guide (2015), a game in which the player moves through levels of failed video games to learn more about their mysterious creator. In one, the player’s task consists solely of wandering through a virtual cave reading the countless comments left there by other frustrated players.

Screenshot from the videogame _The Beginner's Guide_.
Screenshot from the videogame The Beginner’s Guide. Steam/The Beginner’s Guide

In recent years, the genre of digital or electronic literature has emerged, including books with QR codes, works that can only be read with virtual reality headsets, poetry collections published as apps, and so on. These works are fundamentally based on language, begging the question of why video games cannot also fit into this category.

This debate takes on added relevance today, as digital formats are having an undeniable impact on our reading habits. Just as today we accept oral cultures or popular music as literature, perhaps one day we will do the same with interactive stories like The Stanley Parable. Writing has always tried to break away from established ideas, and we know that literature is not limited to words on paper. Sometimes it pays to disobey the voice in our heads and walk through the door on the right, the one that leads to new, unexplored possibilities.

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The Executive’s Essential: How HONOR Magic V2 redefines business mobility Fri, 12 Apr 2024 12:50:27 +0000 Smartphones have become prevalent in the business world – from the D-suite to the C-suite, to even start-up entrepreneurs – every career-minded person chooses a smartphone that has the capabilities to assist them in their business tasks.

According to Google, 75% of users say their devices make them more productive at work – whether it be a tablet or smartphone. It’s not surprising that entrepreneurs and executives alike have adopted the use of devices with aplomb – it allows for a remarkable degree of responsiveness and agility in business – providing an even bigger edge over competitors.

With that being said, not just any smartphone will do when it comes to becoming an effective business tool. HONOR, a brand that is determined to close the gap in the competitive market, has spent the last two years hard at work to produce a tablet-like smartphone that is not only visually stunning but can also address the needs of the avid business person with the HONOR Magic V2 – the world’s thinnest and lightest inward foldable device.

Enhance your business productivity with the HONOR Magic V2

Four essential features have been identified when it comes to making a smartphone the ideal business partner, and how the HONOR Magic V2 successfully integrated these capabilities to provide the ultimate executive essential:

Productivity First
The majority of smartphones currently on the market were not developed to support productivity, they were designed for enhanced communication and entertainment. Business professionals look for a smart device that will enable them to work more efficiently.

One key advantage of the HONOR Magic V2 is its multitasking capabilities. This foldable device can run several apps simultaneously – very similar to a computer or laptop. Thanks to a larger tablet-like screen, those working on a deadline can open their email on one side while drafting a report on the other side of the screen – which assists in maintaining focus and increasing productivity.

Long-Lasting Battery
When it comes to using a smartphone for business needs, there will come times when people don’t have access to a charger or outlet during long work days. In situations like this, a flimsy battery might result in missing an important meeting or deadline – a device with a battery that can last longer than a 15-hour workday is essential.

The HONOR Magic V2 houses a 5000mAh HONOR Silicon-Carbon Dual Battery which offers a high-capacity battery in a slim, foldable design. An essential hardware feature, the upgraded battery promises an even longer lifespan, about 19 hours of consistent use on a single charge, which is especially beneficial for business professionals. Made to last throughout the day without compromise, the battery caters to the needs of individuals with dynamic, business-orientated lifestyles.

Top-Notch Security
Possibly one of the most important features – if business-critical data gets leaked – it could be the financial end for a business. Choosing a device that has been built for security means business-sensitive data is always safeguarded.

Knowing the difference between personal and private use – HONOR has developed a new feature called Parallel Space. Users will be able to create separate profiles – each providing individualised and secure storage for confidential documents and assets – an ideal addition when using the device for both work and personal use.

Device Syncing
Every business owner, entrepreneur or executive is most likely to switch between a smartphone, laptop and desktop throughout the day. The tendency to make use of multiple devices means that a smartphone should be able to sync information between devices without interrupting the workflow.

The HONOR Magic V2 comes equipped with HONOR Connect – a feature that allows the user to automatically connect multiple devices in one ecosystem. Information and files can flow between devices seamlessly – providing a more convenient and efficient workspace for the professional user.

HONOR has developed a device that not only offers a sleek, durable design that can withstand almost any situation – but also acts as the perfect business partner for any executive.

Experience the Magic of the HONOR Magic V2 – available in Black with a special vegan leather back at selected network providers. The recommended retail price for the device is R39,999.

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iPhone SE 4 leaks: what to expect from Apple’s next ‘budget’ phone Fri, 12 Apr 2024 11:45:04 +0000 Look, we’re basic. Like everyone else, we’d much rather get our hands on Apple’s mainline phones, like the iPhone 15, 15 Plus, 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max. Unfortunately, Apple’s pricing convention makes owning one of those an unobtainable fantasy for many. But if the leaks coming out surrounding the company’s upcoming iPhone SE (Special Edition) 4 are true, it might be more our speed price-wise.

Special Editions are back, baby

According to a leaker by the name of @negativeonehero on, a prominent Apple tipster, spotted first by NotebookCheck, the next iteration under the Special Edition umbrella may have had all its specs aired out more than a year out from the expected launch date. There’s no word yet on pricing, though it’s expected to follow in the footsteps of the $430 (R8,000) launch price attached to the SE 3 in 2022.

Read More: Exploring the walled garden: First-time iPhone setup tips

For a budget phone, the SE 4’s specs appear to be surprisingly competent. On its front is a 60Hz 6.1in LTPS OLED display and includes Face ID unlock features lacking in the SE 3. Inside is 6GB of LPDDR5 RAM, Wi-Fi 6 capabilities and an A16 Bionic chip powering it all. Battery life seems to have taken a beating to fit all that in, reportedly featuring a 3,279mAh battery with 20W wired charging and 12W wireless.

All that, covered in a layer of 7000 series aluminium alloy that’ll supposedly make the whole affair look like an iPhone 13 from the front and the iPhone XR from the back.


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The Xiaomi AX3000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System is the network upgrade you need Fri, 12 Apr 2024 11:38:11 +0000 In this increasingly connected world, a slow or erratic Wi-Fi connection is one of the worst fates to suffer. Why put yourself through that when the problem is easily solved with the Xiaomi AX3000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System. This comprehensive and affordable mesh system scales well for homes or small businesses and doesn’t require you to learn the dark arts of networking to set up and use.

Early Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems could cause serious damage to your wallet so, understandably, most people opted for a cheaper alternative to cover their dead zones – a Wi-Fi range extender. These devices might seem more affordable but what you save in cash you end up paying back with the time and effort it takes to set them up and troubleshoot the inevitable problems.

Then there’s the issue of introducing an entirely separate device that almost never integrates well with an existing setup. If you’ve ever seen ‘Home Wi-Fi’ and ‘Home Wi-Fi extender’ signals, you’ll know what an issue it can be as you beg your device to switch or have to manually change hotspots for a better signal.

Wrap yourself in a Xiaomi mesh blanket

The Xiaomi AX3000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System erases all of those problems. It creates a uniform blanket of reliable Wi-Fi coverage that supports up to 254 concurrent devices and allows the system to intelligently manage which node your devices connect to. It also leverages the increased bandwidth (up to 2,976 Mbps) and advanced networking technologies that Wi-Fi 6 offers to cater for the increasing amount of connected devices. It’s no good having a smart home if half of the devices can’t connect or are crippled by a slow connection.

When it comes to setting up the Xiaomi AX3000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System, all you need is the Xiaomi Home app. The intuitive interface and straightforward installation process will have your devices connected in no time – and that’s not even the best part.

While some people enjoy tinkering and optimising their network, the Xiaomi AX3000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System makes these optimisations accessible to everyone through features that do it for you. Automatic Wi-Fi optimisation will find and use the least congested channels and frequencies to enhance wireless range and performance.

Through the Xiaomi Home app, you’re able to easily set the bandwidth per frequency band, which results in lower power consumption and means you’ll have internet for longer when Eskom sheds your load and you’re running on backup power. You can also find per-device parental controls in the Xiaomi Home app, which allows you to disable access to specific websites or to the internet entirely during specific times of the day to manage sleep schedules.

If your wallet is crying, you can tell it to hush. Xiaomi has somehow managed to fit all these easy-to-use features into an affordable package, available as a single unit or a pack of two with recommended retail prices of R1,499 and R2,899 respectively.

Upgrade your home or small business network today with the Xiaomi AX3000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System, available from Incredible, Makro, or Takealot.

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WhatsApp’s Meta AI chatbot has finally made it out of the US and into SA Fri, 12 Apr 2024 10:31:45 +0000 Meta’s WhatsApp, like everything else in 2024, has slowly heaped more and more artificial intelligence (AI) onto its plate. If it isn’t the incoming AI-powered image editor or smarter-than-most customer support, then it’s Meta’s AI chatbot. Thus far, however, that feature has been limited to a small number of users in the US. That’s no longer the case.

WhatsApp is finally extending what was an already-limited trial to more countries, and South Africa is included. While reports seem to indicate that Indian users are receiving the lion’s share of the trial, Stuff can confirm the feature has reached a limited number of users around the country. Despite Stuff being enrolled in WhatsApp’s beta programme, we have yet to receive the update, confirming that the trial rollout is seemingly random.

AI for the Hoi Polloi

WhatsApp Meta AI chatbot trial (SA) intext

While there’s still no word on when the Meta AI-powered chatbot will begin rolling out in a more official capacity, we’re guessing a global launch can’t be too far away. Until then, however, we’ll have to make do with watching the feature from afar, using screenshots of the feature provided to Stuff (pictured above).

Meta AI, which uses the company’s Llama model to make itself artificially intelligent, takes up residence right on WhatsApp’s home page, with a search bar appearing above a user’s chats. Don’t fret. Meta’s AI states that it does not have access to your personal messages, and will only train itself off messages sent directly to it.

Read More: Absa launches ChatWallet to let you bank on WhatsApp – here’s how to use it

Hitting the “Ask Meta AI or Search” bar at the top will instantly offer up a selection of basic prompts to give users an idea of how the feature works. Ask it for “Horror TV show recs” for instance, and it’ll open a new chat with its recommendations for what it considers the best in the genre. Seriously? No The Haunting of Hill House?

The AI can also generate “unique images to share with anyone you want,” similar to the app’s AI stickers feature (which we proudly peer-pressured into making Mario and Sonic smoke). We’ve yet to see just how competent the chatbot is, though we’re doubtful it can hold a candle to dedicated AI image generators. Still, it’s better than nothing.

We’ll keep you updated on the feature’s trajectory into a global rollout.

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Owlet Smart Sock 3 and Cam 2 review – Baby’s first Fitbit Fri, 12 Apr 2024 10:29:53 +0000 Parents, especially modern-day, first-time parents, are often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of baby products available on the market. Obviously, you want just the best for your little one. But often that’s not as simple as buying the first product in a Google search.

I recently became a parent. For the first time, mind you. And being a techy, I almost immediately started researching baby tech when I found out I was pregnant. There are lists of baby monitors available in the market, and finding one that suited our needs was… a long and tedious process.

Now I’m a parent of a newborn, and the R14,000 Owlet Baby Monitor Duo 2 caught my attention due to its intriguing combination of video monitoring and wearable tech. The setup is almost like an Apple Watch for your infant (from birth up to 18 months), paired with a camera monitor to ensure your little one’s stats are good.

The full kit

The Owlet Baby Monitor Duo 2 arrives in two separate boxes — one for the Cam 2 and another for the Smart Sock 3. The packaging is well-designed and includes all the necessary components for installation.

Setting up the Cam 2 is relatively straightforward, whether you choose to mount it on a wall or position it on a flat surface. The magnetic base offers flexibility, but opting for the wall mount option requires a bit more effort. The pairing process, while generally smooth, may encounter occasional hiccups, especially during the QR code scanning step.

I should note here that you’ll need a WiFi network in your home, and that the system won’t work sans power. So if you’re opting for a WiFi baby monitor, you’ll need backup power of some sort, as well as continuous internet connectivity.

Owlet emphasises the devices’ security and privacy, assuring users of a secure, encrypted WiFi connection. It’s still a good idea to ensure security on your home WiFi network as an additional layer of defence. You don’t want creeps poking around in your baby’s room via the baby monitor.

Constant check-in

Equipped with 1080p HD video, night vision, and a wide-angle lens, the Cam 2 promises crisp and clear visuals. In practise, the video quality is impressive, capturing every detail with clarity.

However, we did experience a decrease in video quality during real-time use, particularly when streaming over WiFi. This issue could be attributed to transmission limitations rather than inherent camera capabilities. But it happened more than a few times in our testing.

It is nice to have the live feed on your phone though. Most people will have their smartphones with them at all times, so it’s super convenient.

That happens in the Owlet app, which serves as the central hub for monitoring your baby’s activities. It’s user-friendly and provides access to nursery streams, temperature/humidity readings, and two-way audio communication. Despite occasional lags in loading times and video quality fluctuations during motion or sound detection, the app offers essential features for remote monitoring and gives you peace of mind.

One notable feature of the Owlet app is its customisable notification settings. Users can tailor alerts based on sound, motion, or room comfort preferences. This is a very good idea. We found the default notification settings overwhelming as they’ll notify you of every movement and sound (newborns can be pretty active when they sleep).

We suggest fine-tuning the notification parameters to strike a balance between staying informed and avoiding unnecessary interruptions.

Baby’s first Fitbit

The Smart Sock 3 adds an extra layer of monitoring by tracking vital signs such as heart rate, oxygen levels, and sleep.

Setting up the Sock is straightforward, guided by the app’s instructions. The soft fabric and sensor design offer a comfortable fit for your baby – it shouldn’t be uncomfortable for long-ish sessions on their foot during sleep.

It gives you real-time sleep quality indicators which offer valuable insight into your baby’s sleep patterns. From heart rate variations to oxygen level fluctuations, the app supplies a comprehensive overview of the baby’s sleep quality and metrics.

The app will alert you if the baby’s oxygen drops below a healthy range, transmitting the data via the base station which doubles as the sock’s charging port. This base station is essential for communication between the sock and the app.

And even when the app goes offline or WiFi disconnects, the base station still receives readings from the sock and alerts if anything goes wrong. You just won’t have real-time access to stats or the video feed in the app.

Owlet Smart Sock 3 and Cam 2 Verdict

The Owlet Baby Monitor Duo 2 presents a compelling proposition for parents looking to monitor their baby’s vitals and physical health. While the Cam 2 offers standard features found in its competitors, the addition of the Sock 3 sets it apart as a pretty solid sleep-tracking option.

As the technology evolves and user feedback offers improvements, the Owlet system has the potential to become a staple in modern parenting. The only serious consideration is the price. Almost R15,000 for a baby-compatible tracking system might seem like an overspend but that’s only a thought you have if it’s not your newborn being watched over.

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Galaxy S24 Series: Epitome of Zoom Technology Fri, 12 Apr 2024 09:01:59 +0000 The latest Galaxy S24 series continues Samsung’s exceptional standard when it comes to innovative zoom quality, now further enhanced by Galaxy AI in all digital zoom functions. This factor also plays a key role in mitigating image degradation when taking close-up photos.

Offering exceptionally high-quality photos across optical levels, this Galaxy S24 series is now able to maintain superior image quality through AI processing. With both optical zoom and digital zoom, there are now two ways a camera can make things look closer.

Now the question that you might still have is: what exactly is optical and digital zoom and why does it matter? Optical zoom is able to physically adjust the camera lens to bring the subject closer so that you can capture the finer details, without sacrificing the image quality. So, whether you’re looking to capture impressive landscapes or zoom in on a distant subject at a game or gig, optical zoom helps you capture all the action while keeping the clarity, detail and beauty of what you see.

In contrast, digital zoom uses software to enlarge images without making any physical lens adjustments. However, while this software makes images bigger, it can also make them blurry because it’s zooming into a photo after taking it. So, the more you zoom, the more detail you lose because the pixels in the image are simply made bigger.

In an effort to maximise photo zoom experiences for the most common consumer use cases, Samsung has made several powerful updates to the camera of the Galaxy S24 series. The latest Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, in particular now benefits from 2x, 3x, 5x, and 10x optical zoom systems. Now equipped with a revolutionary camera system, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra redefines mobile photography and is the ultimate choice if you’re looking for the best Samsung phone to take professional-level photographs.

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra has camera specs that leave traditional cameras trailing behind. You’ll find an incredible quad-lens setup on the rear. Boasting a head-spinning 200MP wide resolution camera, 12MP Ultra-wide, 10MP 3x Optical Zoom, and the new 50MP Telephoto Lens which has a 5x optical zoom.

With the addition of a 12MP Dual Pixel Selfie camera on the front, you can rest assured that the Galaxy S24 Ultra has an impressive camera lens that’s right for every moment. With the ground-breaking Quad-telephoto camera, you get 2x, 3x, 5x and 10x optical zoom – thanks to the new 50MP telephoto lens.

The Galaxy S24 series puts professional photography in your pocket

And if you need even more? The epic AI-powered 100x Space Zoom intelligently processes information to capture clearer and brighter pictures, without compromising quality. You can now also master pro-grade lenses by taking advantage of the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s sophisticated camera system that comes packed with high-megapixel sensors and periscope telephoto lenses. These lenses provide exceptional detail, clarity and zoom capabilities for a diverse range of photographic scenarios.

Now, no more shaky and pixelated images – taken from far away. Galaxy S24 Ultra’s Quad Tele System, with its new 5x optical zoom lens, works with the 50MP sensor to enable the best results and optical-quality performance at zoom levels from 2x, 3x, 5x to 10x magnification and this is all thanks to the Adaptive Pixel Sensor. Images also show crystal clear results with enhanced digital zoom. This impressive feature allows you to effortlessly capture every detail of a performance, wedding or even graduation ceremony, no matter how far away you’re sitting.

Gone is the need to tinker with camera modes or look for the best settings to capture a great shot. You can now also capture more light and stunning details in dim conditions with Galaxy S24 Ultra’s increased pixel size, which is 60% bigger – compared to the previous model. Measuring 1.4μm on each side of the pixel at 5x zoom and combined with enhanced AI ISP, this essentially means that the Galaxy S24 Ultra can capture more light and create brighter, less noisy images.

Never miss a moment, regardless of capture mode. So, whether you’re exploring a bustling night market with friends or attending a cosy bonfire gathering on a beach, there are numerous occasions where you’d like to capture night-time moments with your smartphone. Samsung’s Night Mode lets you capture vibrant and highly optimised photos, even in low-light conditions.

With the upgraded version of Nightography and capabilities powered by enhanced AI, photos and videos shot on Galaxy S24 Space Zoom are brilliant in any conditions, even when zoomed in. It can even distinguish between different textures in low-lit environments, so after-dark photos look as detailed as real life.

It doesn’t matter if you’re taking pictures at night with Nightography or shooting videos on the go, image stabilisation on the Galaxy S24 series, enables the phone’s camera to deliver consistently clear and steady images, ensuring that all your favourite moments are captured with absolute precision and detail. With AI advancements in the latest Samsung Galaxy S24 series and Samsung’s Night Mode technology, you’ll now find that enhanced AI Nightography is able to capture every shade and texture, even after dark.

And with all these awe-inspiring AI-enabled, zoom-quality features, it’s now possible to capture stunning landscapes, intricate low-light details and vibrant colours with unparalleled precision. Whether you’re a photography enthusiast or someone who wants to remember special family occasions, the Galaxy S24 series is your go-to for capturing life’s extraordinary moments.

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‘Empathetic’ AI has more to do with psychopathy than emotional intelligence – but that doesn’t mean we can treat machines cruelly Fri, 12 Apr 2024 07:06:24 +0000 AI has long since surpassed humans in cognitive matters that were once considered the supreme disciplines of human intelligence like chess or Go. Some even believe it is superior when it comes to human emotional skills such as empathy. This does not just seem to be some companies talking big for marketing reasons; empirical studies suggest that people perceive ChatGPT in certain health situations as more empathic than human medical staff. Does this mean that AI is really empathetic?

A definition of empathy

As a psychologically informed philosopher, I define genuine empathy according to three criteria:

  • Congruence of feelings: empathy requires that the person who empathizes to feel what it is like to experience the other’s emotions in a specific situation. This distinguishes empathy from a mere rational understanding of emotions.
  • Asymmetry: the person who feels empathy only has the emotion because another individual has it and it is more appropriate to the other’s situation than to their own. For this reason, empathy is not just a shared emotion like the shared joy of parents over the progress of their offspring, where the asymmetry condition is not met.
  • Other-awareness: There must be at least a rudimentary awareness that empathy is about the feelings of another individual. This accounts for the difference between empathy and emotional contagion which occurs if one catches a feeling or an emotion like a cold. This happens, for instance, when kids start to cry when they see another kid crying.

Empathetic AI or psychopathic AI?

Given this definition, it’s clear that artificial systems cannot feel empathy. They do not know what it’s like to feel something. This means that they cannot fulfil the congruence condition. Consequently, the question of whether what they feel corresponds to the asymmetry and other-awareness condition does not even arise. What artificial systems can do is recognise emotions, be it on the basis of facial expressions, vocal cues, physiological patterns or affective meanings; and they can simulate empathic behaviour by ways of speech or other modes of emotional expression.

Artificial systems hence show similarities to what common sense calls a psychopath: despite being unable to feel empathy, they are capable to recognize emotions on the basis of objective signs, to mimic empathy and to use this ability for manipulative purposes. Unlike psychopaths, artificial systems do not set these purposes by themselves, but are given them by their designers. So-called empathetic AI is often supposed to make us behave in a desired way, such as not getting upset when driving, learning with greater motivation, working more productively, buying a certain product – or voting for a certain political candidate. But then does not everything depend on how good the purposes are for which empathy-simulating AI is used?

Empathy-simulating AI in the context of care and psychotherapy

Take care and psychotherapy, which aim to nurture people’s well-being. You might think that the use of empathy-simulating AI in these areas is definitely a good thing. Would they not be wonderful care-givers and social companions for old people, loving partners for the disabled, or perfect psychotherapists that have the benefit of being available 24/7?

Such questions ultimately concern what it means to be a human being. Is it enough for a lonely, old or mentally disturbed person to project emotions onto an artefact devoid of feelings, or is it important for a person to experience recognition for themselves and their suffering in an interpersonal relationship?

Respect or tech?

From an ethical perspective, it is a matter of respect whether there is someone who empathically acknowledges the needs and the suffering of a person as such. By taking away recognition by another subject, the person in need of care, companionship or psychotherapy is treated as a mere object because ultimately this is based on the assumption that it does not matter whether anybody really listens to the person. They do not have a moral claim that their feelings, needs and suffering is perceived by someone who can really understand them. Using empathy-simulating AI in care and psychotherapy is ultimately another case of technological solutionism, i.e., the naïve assumption that there is a technological fix for every problem, including loneliness and mental “malfunctions”. Outsourcing these issues to artificial systems prevents us from seeing the social causes for loneliness and mental disorders in the larger context of society.

In addition, designing artificial systems to appear as someone or something that has emotions and feels empathy would mean that such devices always have a manipulative character because they address very subliminal mechanisms of anthropomorphisation. This fact is used in commercial applications to get users to unlock a paid premium level: or customers pay with their data. Both practices are particularly problematic for vulnerable groups, which are at stake here. Even people who do not belong to vulnerable groups and are perfectly aware that an artificial system has no feelings will still react empathically to it as if it did.

Empathy with artificial systems – all too human

It is a well-studied phenomenon that humans react with empathy towards artificial systems that display certain human or animal-like characteristics. This process is largely based on perceptual mechanisms which are not consciously accessible. Perceiving a sign that another individual is undergoing a certain emotion produces a congruent emotion in the observer. Such a sign can be a typical behavioural manifestation of an emotion, a facial expression or an event that typically causes a certain emotion. Evidence from brain MRI scans shows that the same neural structures get activated when humans feel empathy with robots.

Read More: Increasingly sophisticated AI systems can perform empathy, but their use in mental health care raises ethical questions

Although empathy might not be strictly necessary for morality, it plays an important moral role. For this reason, our empathy toward human-like (or animal-like) robots imposes at least indirect moral constraints on how we should treat these machines. It is morally wrong to habitually abuse robots that elicit empathy as doing so negatively affects our capacity to feel empathy, which is an important source of moral judgment, motivation, and development.

Does this mean that we have to establish a robot-rights league? That would be premature, as robots do not have moral claims by themselves. Empathy with robots is only indirectly morally relevant due to its effects on human morality. But we should carefully consider whether and in which areas we really want robots that simulate and evoke empathy in human beings as we run the risk of distorting or even destroying our social practices if they became pervasive.

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Sony WH-ULT900N headphones review – Ultimately, these are pretty great mid-rangers Thu, 11 Apr 2024 16:00:02 +0000 Until today, Sony’s WH-ULT900N headphones were merely rumours. There had been one substantial leak but very little real coverage of what the company is positioning as its new ULT headphones. The design looks premium but, in common with one of Sony’s 2023 surprises, the C700N buds, there have been a few sacrifices made to drop the price.

Can Sony strike gold two years in a row while offering a more affordable product to the masses? Based on our time with the WH-ULT900N over-ears, that’s just possible. But there are a few items to consider before you put your money down.

Looks are everything

These over-ears are definitely products of Sony’s design lab. In appearance, they come across as a hybrid of the WH-1000XM4 overs from 2021 and 2022’s WH-1000XM5.  The headband resembles the XM5’s but the whole unit folds up in the same manner as the XM4 set. Visually, it’s attractive, but picking them up immediately shows that these aren’t the top of the range. The heft and weight we’d expect are replaced by a slightly hollow feeling that still feels sturdy enough. But it’s not premium.

Our review set was a pre-production model but everything we encountered should be in place in the final retail units. The left ear cup hosts three physical buttons as well as a 3.5mm jack and USB-C charge port. The right cup doesn’t have any external additions but the right-hand panel acts as a gesture panel for play, pause, and navigation.

The three buttons are further indicators that the WH-ULT900N overs aren’t quite for the premium market. The power button also sets up Bluetooth pairing and there’s a key for turning on noise cancelling or ambient modes. The third key is marked ULT. Giving it a poke plays a little sound effect inside the cups and drops listeners into one of three preset audio modes. We found ourselves favouring the default setting but there’s a satisfying bass jump in the middle setting that deepens into an aggressive rumble in the third option.

Sound decision

Whatever the WH-ULT900N’s faults, and we’ll get to a few of them in a second, there’s one thing they do extremely well. The audio is top-notch. As mentioned, we stuck mostly with the default setting which, in our opinion, didn’t need tweaking at all, but there are a couple of bass-enhancing modes available via the ULT button. The first is just a little more bassy. The second would give a speaker-laden taxi a run for its head-rumbling money.

But the ‘ULT’ portion of these cans isn’t really required. Those with more precious audio tastes can lovingly craft their own personal EQ settings in Sony’s app. Others, the folks Sony seems to be after with these over-ears, can simply jack up the bass until it’s capable of crumbling concrete foundations.

If, like us, you’re one of the world’s more or less normal people, at least as it pertains to audio, then Sony’s default setting is an excellent experience. There’s clear separation of lows, mids, and highs, excellent clarity throughout, and whatever you’re playing, from classic 90s thrash metal to more sedate offerings from the softer side of Spotify, sounds as fresh as the first day you heard it. There’s even a little space for nuance in complex melodies if that’s your thing.

Sony claims a solid 30 hours of battery with noise cancelling and Bluetooth enabled and a serious 50 hours with noise cancelling off. We… didn’t get to run them all the way flat before the review was due but that was partly due to their arrival in South Africa, partly the admittedly excellent battery life, and partly the fact that we gave these cans a brief charge about midway through the review that added 15% to the battery total. Not bad for ten minutes’ work.

The catch

Obviously, you won’t purchase a R5,000 set of headphones (the planned retail price for Sony’s WH-ULT900N overs in South Africa when they land) and expect perfection. It would be nice, but there were a few sacrifices made to get there. One of the main ones we’ve already mentioned — the build falls short of being truly premium but it’s quite far above ‘seriously budget’ as well.

There are other aspects that we weren’t thrilled with. The physical controls could have been slightly better placed. A button always seemed to be under a thumb as we raised and removed the WH-ULT900Ns, switching us to a bassier profile or ambient mode without consulting us first. The touchpad on the right side also took some getting used to. Swiping between tracks always worked but convincing it to pause or play on command was another sort of mission.

Noise cancelling… works. We’ve experienced better from Sony itself but even from similarly-priced headphones. Sony chose to focus on one main aspect with these overs. As a result, these will cancel noise well enough but they’re unlikely to blow you away with their stunning silence. It’ll mute the office and traffic and almost everything else in your immediate vicinity. But others have done that task better.

Finally, there’s the audio cutoff when removing the headphones. Initially, it didn’t work at all and now, following a few days with these headphones, it’s still a little iffy. Power management is also a little iffy. Sony’s cans will turn themselves off if you put them down for a while, which is great. But you’ll have to physically turn them on again in order to resume listening. That’s very much a first-world problem but Sony’s pricier headphones have spoiled us somewhat.

Sony WH-ULT900N verdict

Sony’s headphones, at the time of publication, aren’t in South African stores just yet. When they do drop, at that RRP of R5,000, you’d be doing yourself a favour by checking them out. They’re aimed at folks with middling budgets who like some rumble with their tunes but that doesn’t mean that Sony has skimped on the sound. The WH-ULT900N headphones have plenty to offer where it counts and a handful of properly premium features to explore. The few cost-cutting aspects can easily be forgiven when the sound is as good as it is.

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Nokia has three new dumbphones on the way: the Nokia 6310, Nokia 5310, and Nokia 230 Thu, 11 Apr 2024 12:20:18 +0000 If you haven’t been paying attention, HMD Global (Human Mobile Devices) owns Nokia now. This isn’t news — it’s been that way for the better part of seven years — but with the company’s recent upswing in activity, we thought a reminder was in order. In fact, it’s gearing up to launch its own smartphone brand, but before it gets there, it’s got three new Nokia ‘dumbphones’ to share. Meet the Nokia 6310, Nokia 5310, and Nokia 230.

You might have thought the ‘dumbphone’ was dead and buried, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Just the other day we spent time reviewing Nokia’s 2660 Flip — a phone that deals in megabytes rather than gigabytes when it comes to RAM. And that 0.3MP camera? Lovely.

Music to our ears

Nokia 6310 (2024) intext
Nokia 6310 (2024)

It’s worth mentioning that these aren’t exactly ‘new’. They’re rehashed classic Nokia devices. The Nokia 6310 (2024) for instance, is riding the coattails of the model from 2021 (which itself is derived from the original Nokia 6310 from 2001), though Nokia’s thrown in a larger 1,450mAh battery and a USB-C port. See, Apple? It’s not that hard.

Everything else… has been kept the same. It still sports a 2.8in QVGA display, 8MB of internal storage, dual SIM-slot, and a 0.3MP camera on the rear end we saw during the re-release in 2021. There’s even a 3.5mm audio jack — something plenty of today’s smartphones can’t brag about.

Nokia 5310 (2024) intext
Nokia 5310 (2024)

Nokia’s 5310 (2024) is yet another refresh, being the third iteration in the 5310 family. Modelled after the 2020 refresh, the 5310 first came to power in 2007 as an “XpressMusic” phone. Don’t worry. We had to look it up too. As for the specs of the 2024 model, it packs a larger 1,450mAh battery, a larger 2.8in QVGA display, and a Unisoc 6531F chipset. Oh, and the USB-C charging hole is also new. Everything else…

Read More: Random Access Memories (2003) – Nokia N-Gage

Nokia 230 (2024) intext
Nokia 230 (2024)

And finally, we have the Nokia 230 (2024). Being the youngest of the bunch, having only released in 2015, it was only entitled to the bare necessities to turn this into a usable phone for 2024. That means the same 1,450 mAh battery upgrade and USB-C port on the bottom. It’s got Bluetooth 5.0 too thanks to the Unisoc 6531F CPU. The 2MP camera, 8/16MB of RAM and storage, and 2.8in QVGA display remain untouched.

At the time of writing, Nokia is yet to officially announce prices, nor a strategy to launch these locally in SA. We’re not worried about that last bit — Nokia’s a fan of South Africa and always has been. No, what concerns us most is that these devices are 2G capable and only 2G capable — which is reportedly getting the boot come 2027. Whether that’ll actually happen is a different story altogether.


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