CES- Online Only in 2021; Study: Masks Thwart Most Facial Recognition; Numbers Show Power of Big Four Tech Firms; Alexa Jamming Gadget

The giant Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s biggest consumer tech show held in Vegas in January each year, will be ‘online only’ in 2021. Engadget.com reports that the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the show, decided it just isn’t possible to bring tens of thousands of people into Las Vegas by January…knowing that there likely won’t be many people vaccinated against COVID-19 by then..IF we even have a vaccine by that time. The CES brings in some 182,000 folks from al over the world, and that would be the mother of all super spreader events in all likelihood. The CTA hasn’t yet released dates and details, but as they do, we’ll pass those on.

If you have been trying to use Apple’s Face ID during the pandemic, you have been irritated by it not opening when you wear a mask. In an iOS update, Apple did speed up the smartphone’s inability to recognize a user, and the keypad for your key code shows up a bit faster. So…how masks affect facial recognition tech out in the world? According to venturebeat.com, the National Institutes of Science and Technology (NIST) has done a study now, and can tell us that 89% of facial recognition algorithms from Panasonic, Canon, Tencent, and others had error rates between 5% and 50% in matching digitally applied masks with photos of the same person without a mask. For reference, when using the software on pictures, most only failed to authenticate a person about .3% of the time. Interestingly, the more of the nose that was covered by a mask, the worse the software did. Many companies are now working on software that focuses on the eyes and above…but Apple’s Face ID already does that, and it is still pretty helpless with a face in a mask.

How big is big tech, really? Here are some numbers that bring their size and power into focus. Axios notes that the rough combined market capitalization of Facebook, Apple, Google (Alphabet), and Amazon is $5 TRILLION dollars! How about their combined annual revenue for last year? $773 billion. Facebook’s $70.7 billion is about equal to Venezuela’s gross domestic product. Alphabet’s $161 billion is more than Ukraine’s GDP. Apple’s $260 billion haul nearly matches Vietnam’s GDP, and Amazon’s monster $280 billion about matches Pakistan’s GDP. All 4 together match the GDP of Saudi Arabia! How about cash on hand? Combined $420 billion…that’s more than the US government has on hand much of the time!

If you worry about Alexa listening in when you’d prefer it didn’t, and you love TV’s ‘Clapper,’ here ya go. It is probably too much to ask to get up and unplug your Echo or other device…we’re terminally lazy in that respect. Check out Alexagate…an ultrasonic speaker that sits on most Alexa smart speakers. Mashable.com reports you plop it on top of the smart speaker, turn it on, and it uses “pulsed ultrasound to jam the Echo’s microphone.” You clap 3 times to turn it on, and 3 more to turn it off. It’s $99…cheaper to get off your butt and just Turn Alexa off when you want more privacy.


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