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Google Car for Sale: Slightly Underequipped

Google will have to contend with the West's unique understanding of cuteness for its autonomous car to be accepted.

The Google Car prototype sure is cute. And as Megan Garber already explained on these pages, it’s cute because it hopes to convey familiarity and comfort while eschewing “creepiness,” that scourge of technology that arises when it seems out of place, over the line. Garber rightly connects the Google Car’s cuteness to Japanese kawaii culture. Japanese cuteness produces a sense of protection and innocence that appeals… read more

What Is ‘Evil’ to Google?

Speculations on the company's contribution to moral philosophy

Last week, another distasteful use of your personal information by Google came to light: The company plans to attach your name and likeness to advertisements delivered across its products without your permission. As happens every time the search giant does something unseemly, Google's plan to turn its users into unwitting endorsers has inspired a new round of jabs at Google's… read more

Google Zombie: The Glass Wearers of Tomorrow

The best metaphor for Google Glass? Not jerks or junkies, but the living dead.

Since the unveiling of Google Glass, the tech giant’s new wearable computing device, a common nickname for its wearers has arisen among skeptics and critics: Glassholes. It’s a charming portmanteau that satisfies an immediate desire to shun this weird new contraption. And the term fits, to some extent. As a strangely popular trend in books on assholes has helped us… read more

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The Car That Killed Glamour

Tesla and the end of the automobile as an object of desire

The Tesla Model S is a supercar without equal. Recently, the P85D trim broke the Consumer Reports rating system, earning a score of 103 out of 100. They rounded down to just 100, calling it “closest to perfect we've ever seen.” The Model S accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in under 3.5 seconds, via an electric motor that produces… read more

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Don’t Hate the Phone Call, Hate the Phone

Our telephone habits have changed, but so have the infrastructure and design of the handset.

One of the ironies of modern life is that everyone is glued to their phones, but nobody uses them as phones anymore. Not by choice, anyway. Phone calls—you know, where you put the thing up to your ear and speak to someone in real time—are becoming relics of a bygone era, the “phone” part of a smartphone turning vestigial as… read more

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The Internet of Things You Don’t Really Need

Smart devices turn every industry into the computer industry, and dupe consumers into thinking their lives are better for it in the process.

Atlanta turns yellow for two weeks in April. Streets, driveways, terraces, cars—everything cakes with pollen. It’s the trees that cause the worst of it. Pine, oak, sweet gum, sycamore, mulberry, hackberry, birch, willow. Prolific itching, sneezing, and car-washing ensue. Grilling season officially begins when the pollen subsides. This year’s was particularly grievous, and perhaps that’s why I was so eager… read more

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A Master Key to the Ultimate Dumb Device

The future of the iPhone could be a way of tethering people to Apple products even when they don't want them anymore.

Lock-in. That's what we call it when you're dependent on a specific vendor for particular services. When you buy a single-serving coffee machine boasting convenient, mess-free coffee inserts, like Keurig K-Cup or Nespresso, you're bound to its brand of coffee pods. When you purchase digital music on iTunes, proprietary formats and digital rights management (DRM) make it difficult to listen… read more

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The Cathedral of Computation

We’re not living in an algorithmic culture so much as a computational theocracy.

Algorithms are everywhere, supposedly. We are living in an “algorithmic culture,” to use the author and communication scholar Ted Striphas’s name for it. Google’s search algorithms determine how we access information. Facebook’s News Feed algorithms determine how we socialize. Netflix’s and Amazon’s collaborative filtering algorithms choose products and media for us. You hear it everywhere. “Google announced a change to… read more

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Winning Isn’t Everything

I used to think that games would be the dominant medium of the 21st century. The reality? They’re too big, too complex, and too smart for that to be true.

It’s hard to turn around in video game circles without hearing someone proclaim that “games are the dominant medium of the 21st century.” Deus Ex and Epic Mickeydesigner Warren Spector has a lecture built around the idea. The author Tom Chatfield devoted the subtitle of his book Fun, Inc to the concept. Journey composer Austin Wintory’s uttered the quip in an interview. Film critics writing about recent documentaries about games have even let… read more

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The Secret History of the Robot Car

How self-driving vehicles took off

After attending the 1964 World’s Fair, the science-fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote an essay in The New York Times imagining a visit to the World’s Fair 50 years in the future, in 2014. Among his predictions: “Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with ‘robot-brains’—vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by… read more