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WhatsApp test brings screen sharing to Android phones

WhatsApp's newest update takes a page out of work-centric video call platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The messaging app is in the process of rolling out a screen sharing feature that will record and display the contents of your screen with whoever is on the other end of the video call, WABetaInfo reports.

An icon of a phone with an arrow pointing out of it represents the feature and sits alongside longstanding tools like switching cameras, muting and disabling video that appear at the bottom of WhatsApp calls. Once you click the new button, a prompt appears asking if you want to "Start recording or casting with WhatsApp?" alongside a disclaimer that the company will have access to any passwords, photos or payment details you display. If you're okay with that, all that's left is to click "Start now." You can then stop sharing your screen at any time during the call.

Screen sharing is only available to select Android beta testers right now but should roll out to more users in the coming weeks. However, it might not work on older Android models, bigger group calls or with people who don't have WhatsApp's latest version downloaded. If you have an iPhone or iPad and don't feel tied to WhatsApp, Apple baked a similar screen sharing feature into FaceTime calls in January.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NVIDIA's generative AI lets gamers converse with NPCs

NVIDIA has unveiled technology called Avatar Cloud Engine (ACE) that would allow gamers to speak naturally to non-playable characters (NPCs) and receive appropriate responses. The company revealed the tech during its generative AI keynote at Computex 2023, showing a demo called Kairos with a playable character speaking to an NPC named Jin in a dystopic-looking Ramen shop. 

The demo (below in 32:9, the widest widescreen I've ever seen) shows the player carrying on a conversation with Jin. "Hey Jin, how are you," the person asks. "Unfortunately, not so good," replies Jin. "How come?" " I am worried about the crime around here. It's gotten bad lately. My ramen shop got caught in the crossfire." 

Yes, the dialogue is a tad wooden; it seems like ChatGPT might have done a better job. Still, the idea is to show that you could just speak into your headset and an NPC will answer in the proper context, making for a more natural interaction than you'd usually get in such a situation. 

NVIDIA made the demo in partnership with Convai to promote ACE, which can run both in the cloud and locally (on NVIDIA hardware, natch). It uses NVIDIA NeMo for building, customizing and deploying large language models that can be customized with lore and character backstories, while using guardrails to protect against inappropriate conversations. It also deploys a speech recognition and speech-to-text tool called Riva, along with NVIDIA's Omniverse Audio2Face "for instantly creating expressive facial animation of a game character to match any speech track."

The demo was built in Unreal Engine 5 to show off NVIDIA's ray-tracing and other GPU features. The visuals are actually more compelling than the AI dialogue, though it's easy to see how the latter could be improved enormously. NVIDIA didn't announce any games that will use the tech, but Stalker 2: Heart of Chernobyl and Fort Solis will employ Omniverse Audio2Face. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Microsoft's Xbox Elite Series 2 controller is $35 off right now

If you're in the market for a quality controller without breaking the bank, now might be a good opportunity. Microsoft's Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller in black is 19 percent off, dropping from $180 to $145. Though it's not the lowest we've seen, it's still a decent-sized drop from its retail price. 

The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is a solid option for Xbox gamers, regardless of your system of choice, as it's compatible with Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and Windows 10 or 11 devices through Xbox Wireless or Bluetooth. There's also an option to connect it with an included USB-C cord. You can swap parts like D-pads and paddles, save up to three unique profiles to the controller and explore button mapping options through the Xbox Accessories app. It also holds up to 40 hours of battery life.

Microsoft's Xbox Wireless Headset is also on sale, down from $100 to $85 — a 15 percent discount. The headphones are compatible across the same systems as Xbox's wireless controller, such as Xbox Series X|S. Additional features include auto-mute, voice isolation and up to 15 hours of battery life. The headphones have sound technologies like Dolby Atmos and Windows Sonic, with volume control dials located on the left earcup.

The wireless headset is still a good $40 more than its wired counterpart, but if free movement is important to you, the discount certainly helps. If you're looking to update all your accessories for the summer, the sale brings the total price of the wireless headset and controller to $230 — saving you $50 overall.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The Morning After: Japan will try to beam solar power from space by 2025

JAXA, Japan’s NASA equivalent, has spent decades trying to make it possible to beam solar energy from space – which seems like technology for a far-future space anime. In 2015, JAXA scientists successfully beamed 1.8 kilowatts of power, enough energy to power an electric kettle 50 meters away, wirelessly. Now, a Japanese public–private partnership will attempt to beam solar energy from space as early as 2025. The project involves deploying into orbit a series of small satellites, which will beam collected solar energy to ground-based receiving stations hundreds of miles away.

While this already seems a huge step up from a kettle 50 meters away, it’s just the start of the challenge. Creating a satellite array that can generate 1 gigawatt of power – or about the output of one nuclear reactor – is estimated to cost around $7 billion with current technologies.

– Mat Smith

The Morning After isn’t just a newsletter – it’s also a daily podcast. Get our daily audio briefings, Monday through Friday, by subscribing right here.

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The best Memorial Day tech sales we could find

Fire pits, wireless headphones and a pizza oven.  

It’s a national holiday, so of course Memorial Day brings a few bargains and deals so you can celebrate those who served in the military by… shopping. Notable deals include $50 off Sony's excellent WH-1000XM5 headphones, Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K Max back at an all-time low of $35 and Apple's iPad Air down to $500.

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Naughty Dog says its ‘Last of Us’ multiplayer game needs more time

The studio has other games in development, including a new single-player title.

One of the most notable omissions from this week's PlayStation Showcase was anything from Naughty Dog. Many (including yours truly) expected the studio to reveal more details about its Last of Us multiplayer game, but we'll need to wait a little longer to hear more.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Naughty Dog said, "We're incredibly proud of the job our studio has done thus far, but as development has continued, we've realized what is best for the game is to give it more time." As such, it now seems unlikely we'll hear much about the game during Summer Game Fest (where Naughty Dog offered a first peek at concept art from the project last year).

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US judge grants final approval to Apple’s $50 million butterfly keyboard settlement

Payouts will start rolling out soon.


A US federal court gave final approval to the $50 million class-action settlement over claims Apple knew about and concealed the unreliable nature of keyboards on MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro computers released between 2015 and 2019. Judge Edward Davila on Thursday called the settlement involving Apple’s infamous butterfly keyboards “fair, adequate and reasonable.” Under the agreement, MacBook users impacted by the saga will receive settlements between $50 and $395. More than 86,000 claims for class member payments were made before the application deadline last March, Judge Davila wrote in his ruling. However, Apple won’t have to admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement agreement.

Continue reading.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NASA's SLS rocket is $6 billion over budget and six years behind schedule

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket designed to take astronauts to the moon is over budget and far behind it's original schedule, according to a scathing new audit from NASA's Inspector General. Furthermore, the report foresees "additional cost and schedule increases" that could potentially jeopardize the entire Artemis mission if problems aren't handled. 

NASA's spending on the Artemis Moon Program is expected to reach $93 billion by 2025, including $23.8 billion already spent on the SLS system through 2022. That sum represents "$6 billion in cost increases and over six years in schedule delays above NASA’s original projections," the report states. 

The SLS, which finally launched for the first time in November 2022, uses four RS-25 engines per launch, including 16 salvaged from retired Space Shuttles. Once those run out (all engines on SLS are expendable), NASA will switch to RS-25E engines being built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, which are supposed to be 30 percent cheaper and 11 percent more powerful. It also uses solid rocket boosters provided by Northrop Grumman. 

The older technology isn't helping with the budget as NASA expected, though. "These increases are caused by interrelated issues such as assumptions that the use of heritage technologies from the Space Shuttle and Constellation Programs were expected to result in significant cost and schedule savings compared to developing new systems for the SLS," the audit states. "However, the complexity of developing, updating, and integrating new systems along with heritage components proved to be much greater than anticipated." 

For instance, only 5 of the 16 engine adaptations have been completed, and scope and cost increases have hit the booster contract as well. The latter has been the biggest issue, increasing from $2.5 billion to $4.4 billion since Artemis was announced, and delaying the schedule by five years. 

The Inspector General also blames the use of "cost-plus" contracts that allow suppliers to inflate budgets more easily, instead of fixed-priced contracts. The report recommends that upcoming work be shifted to a fixed-price regime and that procurement issues be resolved, among others. NASA management has agreed to all eight recommendations. 

The Artemis moon mission project was based on the Constellation program, originally launched in 2005 with the goal of returning to the moon by 2020 and eventually, Mars. Cancellation of that project by the Obama administration was met with widespread criticism, largely because the program guaranteed jobs around the US. 

However, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, introduced the same year, mandated construction of the SLS and requiring the repurposing of existing technology, contracts and workforce from Constellation. It also required partnerships with private space companies. SpaceX, for one, is developing its own Starship rocket system, also capable of carrying astronauts to the Moon and Mars. However, Starship exploded on its first orbital launch mission, and may not fly again soon due to issues with the self-destruct command and the considerable damage it did to local ecosystems. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NVIDIA's next DGX supercomputer is all about generative AI

NVIDIA CEO Jensen Hiang made a string of announcements during his Computex keynote, including details about the company’s next DGX supercomputer. Given where the industry is clearlyheading, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the DGX GH200 is largely about helping companies develop generative AI models.

The supercomputer uses a new NVLink Switch System to enable 256 GH200 Grace Hopper superchips to act as a single GPU (each of the chips has an Arm-based Grace CPU and an H100 Tensor Core GPU). This, according to NVIDIA, allows the DGX GH200 to deliver 1 exaflop of performance and to have 144 terabytes of shared memory. The company says that's nearly 500 times as much memory as you'd find in a single DGX A100 system.

For comparison, the latest ranking of the Top500 supercomputers lists Frontier at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee as the only known exascale system, having reached a performance of nearly 1.2 exaflops on the Linmark benchmark. That's over twice the peak performance of the second-placed system, Japan's Fugaku.

In effect, NVIDIA claims to have developed a supercomputer that can stand alongside the most powerful known system on the planet (Meta is building one that it claims will be the fastest AI supercomputer in the world once it’s fully built out). NVIDIA says the architecture of the DGX GH200 offers 10 times more bandwidth than the previous generation, "delivering the power of a massive AI supercomputer with the simplicity of programming a single GPU."

Some big names are interested in the DGX GH200. Google Cloud, Meta and Microsoft should be among the first companies to gain access to the supercomputer to test how it can handle generative AI workloads. NVIDIA says DGX GH200 supercomputers should be available by the end of 2023.

The company is also building its own supercomputer, Helios, that combines four DGX GH200 systems. NVIDIA expects Helios to be online by the end of the year.

Huang discussed other generative AI developments during his keynote, including one on the gaming front. NVIDIA Avatar Cloud Engine (ACE) for Games is a service developers will be able to tap into in order to create custom AI models for speech, conversation and animation. NVIDIA says ACE for Games can "give non-playable characters conversational skills so they can respond to questions with lifelike personalities that evolve."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Japan will try to beam solar power from space by 2025

Japan and JAXA, the country’s space administration, have spent decades trying to make it possible to beam solar energy from space. In 2015, the nation made a breakthrough when JAXA scientists successfully beamed 1.8 kilowatts of power, enough energy to power an electric kettle, more than 50 meters to a wireless receiver. Now, Japan is poised to bring the technology one step closer to reality.

Nikkei reports a Japanese public-private partnership will attempt to beam solar energy from space as early as 2025. The project, led by Naoki Shinohara, a Kyoto University professor who has been working on space-based solar energy since 2009, will attempt to deploy a series of small satellites in orbit. Those will then try to beam the solar energy the arrays collect to ground-based receiving stations hundreds of miles away.

Using orbital solar panels and microwaves to send energy to Earth was first proposed in 1968. Since then, a few countries, including China and the US, have spent time and money pursuing the idea. The technology is appealing because orbital solar arrays represent a potentially unlimited renewable energy supply. In space, solar panels can collect energy no matter the time of day, and by using microwaves to beam the power they produce, clouds aren’t a concern either. However, even if Japan successfully deploys a set of orbital solar arrays, the tech would still be closer to science fiction than fact. That’s because producing an array that can generate 1 gigawatt of power – or about the output of one nuclear reactor – would cost about $7 billion with currently available technologies.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Portugal considers banning Huawei from national 5G networks

Portugal could become the latest country to effectively ban Huawei and other Chinese firms from participating in its 5G buildouts. As reported by Bloomberg, the government of Portugal this week recommended barring local carriers from sourcing 5G equipment from suppliers based outside of the European Union or from countries that aren’t part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED).

In a statement Portugal’s Higher Council for Cybersecurity shared on Thursday, the government said firms outside those jurisdictions pose a “high risk” to the security of the country’s wireless networks. The document didn’t call out Huawei specifically, but as China isn’t a member of NATO, the OCED or the EU, the company, alongside other Chinese suppliers like ZTE, would effectively be excluded from participating in Portugal’s 5G networks should the country’s cabinet approve the security council’s recommendation.

“Huawei has no prior knowledge of, and hasn’t been consulted about, this matter,” a Huawei spokesperson told the Financial Times. “Over the past two decades, Huawei has worked with Portuguese carriers to build out wireless networks and provide quality services that connect millions of people. We will continue to comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and serve Portuguese customers and partners who rely on our products and services.”

Banning Chinese companies from participating in its 5G networks would be an abrupt turnaround for Portugal, which has enjoyed close relations with the East Asian superpower for years. As the Financial Times notes, Portugal has been one of the biggest per capita recipients of Chinese investment in recent years. Altice Portugal, the country’s largest wireless carrier, signed a deal in 2018 to use Huawei equipment for part of its 5G rollout. If Portugal moves forward with a ban, it would join Canada and a handful of other European countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, that have recently barred the company from participating in their 5G networks.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

A lawyer faces sanctions after he used ChatGPT to write a brief riddled with fake citations

With the hype around AI reaching a fever pitch in recent months, many people fear programs like ChatGPT will one day put them out of a job. For one New York lawyer, that nightmare could become a reality sooner than expected, but not for the reasons you might think. As reported by The New York Times, attorney Steven Schwartz of the law firm Levidow, Levidow and Oberman recently turned to OpenAI’s chatbot for assistance with writing a legal brief, with predictably disastrous results.

Schwartz’s firm has been suing the Columbian airline Avianca on behalf of Roberto Mata, who claims he was injured on a flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. When the airline recently asked a federal judge to dismiss the case, Mata’s lawyers filed a 10-page brief arguing why the suit should proceed. The document cited more than half a dozen court decisions, including “Varghese v. China Southern Airlines,” “Martinez v. Delta Airlines” and “Miller v. United Airlines.” Unfortunately for everyone involved, no one who read the brief could find any of the court decisions cited by Mata’s lawyers. Why? Because ChatGPT fabricated all of them. Oops.

In an affidavit filed on Thursday, Schwartz said he had used the chatbot to “supplement” his research for the case. Schwartz wrote he was "unaware of the possibility that [ChatGPT’s] content could be false.” He even shared screenshots showing that he had asked ChatGPT if the cases it cited were real. The program responded they were, claiming the decisions could be found in “reputable legal databases,” including Westlaw and LexisNexis. 

Schwartz said he “greatly regrets” using ChatGPT “and will never do so in the future without absolute verification of its authenticity.” Whether he has another chance to write a legal brief is up in the air. The judge overseeing the case has ordered a June 8th hearing to discuss potential sanctions for the “unprecedented circumstance” created by Schwartz’s actions.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Meta’s Quest 3 headset could feature color cameras for more lifelike pass-through video

Meta’s Quest 3 VR headset won’t arrive until later this year. However, now we have a better idea of what to expect from the device courtesy of Bloomberg’sMark Gurman, who says he went hands-on with a prototype to better understand how Quest 3 will stack up against Apple’s forthcoming mixed-reality headset. Gurman reports the prototype, codenamed Eureka, “feels far lighter and thinner” than its predecessor. He says the head strap “seems a bit stronger,” too, and uses fabric on the sides instead of plastic like the Quest 2.

More consequentially, the front of the device reportedly features a new design incorporating an enhanced sensor suite. Three “vertical pill-shaped sensor areas” house two color video pass-through cameras, two standard cameras and a depth sensor. As Gurman notes, that’s a significant upgrade from the Quest 2, which doesn’t come with color pass-through or a depth sensor. The presence of the former means you won’t need to designate the walls in your play space.

The front lower sides of the headset feature tracking cameras, while the bottom has a volume rocker and a wheel to adjust interpupillary distance. That means you can tweak the Quest 3’s IPD without taking the headset off, something you can’t do with the Quest 2.

“The actual clarity and VR displays within the Quest 3 feel similar to those in the Quest 2 — despite the resolution being rumored to be slightly higher,” Gurman writes, while noting pass-through for mixed reality applications and overall performance is significantly improved over the Quest 2. Speaking to the former, he says there’s a “night-and-day improvement” thanks to the added dual RGB cameras. “I was even able to use my phone while wearing the headset, something that often feels impossible on a Quest 2,” he adds. As for performance, Quest 3 reportedly features Qualcomm’s next-generation Snapdragon XR2 chipset, leading to shorter app launch times and more consistent frame rates in games. 

Notably, Gurman says the Quest 3 doesn’t include face and eye tracking, which means the headset won’t support foveated rendering. That’s a feature you can find on the Quest Pro. It allows the system to prioritize its limited computing resources on areas where you’re looking. Another feature the Quest 3 won’t carry over from the Quest Pro is controller-mounted cameras, though Gurman says Meta is trying to improve peripheral tracking in other ways.

“Meta hasn’t yet settled on pricing for the device, but people involved in its development believe it may come in higher than the Quest 2’s $400,” Gurman notes, adding the company could keep the Quest 2 around “at a lower price.” He adds Meta doesn’t plan to release a new Quest Pro “anytime soon since the first version bombed.” The company reportedly plans to announce the Quest 3 sometime in October, which aligns with what company executives have said in the past when asked when consumers can expect a new Quest headset.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Hitting the Books: Renee Descartes had his best revelations while baked in an oven

Some of us do our best thinking in the shower, others do it while on the toilet. Renee Descartes, he pondered most deeply while ensconced in a baker's oven. The man simply needed to be convinced of the oven's existence before climbing in. Such are the quirks of the most monumental minds humanity has to offer. In the hilarious and enthralling new book, Edison's Ghosts: The Untold Weirdness of History's Greatest Geniuses, Dr. Katie Spalding explores the illogical, unnerving, and sometimes downright strange behaviors of luminaries like Thomas "Spirit Phone" Edison, Isaac "Sun Blind" Newton, and Nicola "I fell in love with a pigeon" Tesla. 

b&w image of Edison sitting at a desk with a device atop it, a ghost rising from the surface to form the O in Ghosts
Little Brown and Company

Excerpted from Edison's Ghosts: The Untold Weirdness of History's Greatest Geniuses by Dr. Katie Spalding. Published by Little, Brown and Company. Copyright © 2023 by Katie Spalding. All rights reserved.

When René Descartes Got Baked

René Descartes, like Pythagoras before him and Einstein after, occupies that special place in our collective consciousness where his work has become … well, essentially a short-hand for genius-level intellect. Think about it – in any cartoon or sitcom where one character is (or, through logically-spurious means, suddenly becomes) a brainiac, there are three things they’re narratively bound to say: ‘the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides’ – that’s Pythagoras; ‘E = mc2’ – thank you, Einstein; and finally, ‘cogito ergo sum’. And that is Descartes.

Specifically, it’s old Descartes – Descartes after he had figured his shit out. But while his later writings undeniably played a huge and important role in setting up how we approach the world today – he’s actually one of the main figures who brought us the concept of the scientific method – Descartes’s early years leaned a little more on the silly and gullible than the master of scepticism he’s come to be known as.

Descartes was born in 1596, which places him firmly in that period where science and philosophy and magic were all pretty much the same thing. He’s probably best known as a philosopher these days, but that’s likely because a lot of his developments in mathematics have become so incredibly fundamental that we kind of forget they had to be invented by anybody at all. And I know I’m saying that with ten years of mathematical training behind me and a PhD on the shelf, but even if you haven’t set foot in a maths class since school, you’ll be familiar with something that Descartes invented, because he was the guy who came up with graphs. That’s actually why the points in a graph are given by Cartesian coordinates – it’s from the Latin form of his name, Renatus Cartesius.

And while maths, despite what everyone keeps telling me, can be sexy, ‘cogito ergo sum’ really does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? ‘I think, therefore I am.’ It doesn’t sound like a huge philosophical leap – in fact, it kind of sounds like tautological nonsense – but it’s actually one of the most important conclusions ever reached in Western thought.

See, before Descartes, philosophy didn’t exactly have the sort of wishy-washy, pie-in-the-sky reputation it enjoys today. The dominant school of thought was Scholasticism, which was basically like debate club mixed with year nine science. Sounds fair enough, but in practice – and especially when combined with the strong religious atmosphere and general lack of science up till that point – it was basically a long period of everybody riffing on Plato and Aristotle and trying to make their Ancient Greek teachings match up with the Bible. This was, needless to say, not always easy, and led to rather a lot of navel gazing over questions like ‘Do demons get jealous?’ and ‘Do angels take up physical space?’

Descartes’s approach was radically different. He didn’t see the point in answering questions like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin until he’d been properly convinced of the existence of angels. And dancing. And pins.

Now, of course, this is the point when non-philosophers throw up their hands in despair and say something along the lines of ‘Of course pins exist, you idiot, I have some upstairs keeping my posters up! Jesus, René, are we really paying a fortune in university fees just so you can sit around and doubt the existence of stationery?’

But to that, Descartes would reply: are you sure? I mean, we’ve all had dreams before that are so convincing that we wake up thinking we really did adopt a baby elephant after our teeth all fell out. How do I know I’m not dreaming now? How do I know this isn’t a The Matrix-type situation, and what you think are pins are just a trick being played on us by Agent Smith?

In fact, when you get right down to it, Descartes would say, how can we be sure anything exists? I might not even exist! I might be a brain in a vat, being cleverly stimulated in such a way as to induce a vast hallucination! And yes, sure, I agree that sounds unlikely, but it’s not impossible – the point is, we simply can’t know.

The only thing I can be sure of, Descartes would continue – despite everyone by this point rolling their eyes and muttering things like ‘see what you started, Bill’ – is that I exist. And I can be sure of that, because I’m thinking these thoughts about what exists. I may just be a brain in a vat, being fed lies about the reality that surrounds me, but ‘I’, ‘me’, my sense of self and consciousness – that definitely exists. To summarise: I think – therefore I am.

It was a hell of a breakthrough – he’d basically Jenga’d the entire prevailing worldview into obsolescence. And it’s the kind of idea that could really only have come from someone like Descartes: a weirdo celebrity heretic pseudo-refugee who had a weakness for cross-eyed women, weed and conspiracy theories.

Descartes was, as his name suggests, French by birth, hailing from a small town vaguely west of the centre of the country. If you look it up on a map, you’ll see it’s actually called Descartes, but it’s not some uncanny coincidence – the town was renamed in 1967 after its most famous resident.

Which is kind of odd, because it’s not like Descartes spent all that much time there. He went to school in La Flèche, more than 100km away, where even at the tender age of ten he was displaying the sort of behaviour that would make him perfectly suited to a life of philosophy, sleeping in until lunch every day and only attending lectures when he felt like it. This can’t have made him all that popular with the other kids, who were all expected to get up before 5am, but that’s why you choose a school whose rector is a close family friend, I suppose, and, in any case, by the time the young René turned up they were probably all too tired to do much about it.

After finishing high school, he spent a couple of years at uni studying law, as per his father’s wishes – his dad came from a less well-to-do branch of the Descartes family tree, and probably would have wanted Descartes to keep up appearances for the sake of holding on to posh perks like not paying taxes. It must have pained him, therefore, when after graduating with a Licence in both church and civil law, Descartes immediately gave it all up and went on an extended gap year. ‘As soon as my age permitted me to pass from under the control of my instructors, I entirely abandoned the study of letters, and resolved no longer to seek any other science than the knowledge of myself, or of the great book of the world,’ he would later write, like some kind of nineteen-year-old Eat Pray Love devotee.

‘I spent the remainder of my youth in travelling, in visiting courts and armies, in holding intercourse with men of different dispositions and ranks, [and] in collecting varied experience,’ he continued, in his philosophical treatise-slash-autobiography Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences, which for obvious time-saving reasons is usually referred to as Discourse on the Method. Andlike so many philosophy students throughout history, there was one place he found in his travels that caught Descartes’s heart and imagination more than anywhere else: Amsterdam.

Now, it is of course true that places can change a lot over the course of 400 years – at this point in history, France was being ruled by a nine-year-old autocrat and his mum, Germany didn’t exist, and England was a few years short of becoming a Republic. So you might think, sure, these days Amsterdam has a bit of a reputation, but back in Descartes’s time, it was probably a hub of quiet intellectualism and sombre, clean living.

Nope! Dynasties may rise and fall, empires spread and eventually fracture, but apparently, Amsterdam has always been Amsterdam. Descartes spent his first few years in the city living his absolute best life, studying engineering and maths under the direction of Simon Stevin – another guy you’ve never heard of who made a mathematical breakthrough you almost certainly use every single day of your life, since he invented the decimal point – and dressing like an emo and throwing himself into music. He joined the Dutch army for a bit, despite being by all accounts a tiny weedy bobble-headed French guy, and, yes, he almost certainly smoked a bunch of pot along the way.

And then, one November night in 1619, while on tour in Bavaria, Descartes had a Revelation. And he had it, according to his near-contemporary biographer Adrien Baillet, inside an oven.

‘He found himself in a place so remote from Communication, and so little frequented by people, whose Conversation might afford him any Diversion, that he even procured himself such a privacy, as the condition of his Ambulatory Life could permit him,’ Baillet writes.

‘Not … having by good luck any anxieties, nor passions, within, that were capable of disturbing him, he staid withal all the Day long in his stove, where he had leisure enough to entertain himself with his thoughts,’ he continues, as if that’s a normal thing to write and not an account of someone being so introverted that they secluded themselves miles away from anyone who knew them and then crawled into an oven for the day.

Modern biographers have suggested a few interpretations of what this oven might have been, and I’m sorry to report that, of course, it’s not as ridiculous as it first seems: in the seventeenth century, before we’d tamed electricity and gas mains and whatnot, a ‘stove’ or ‘oven’ was more like your modern-day airing cupboard than an Aga. Just bigger. And fancier. And all your towels are on fire. Look, the analogy isn’t perfect, but the point is that when Descartes said, in Discourse on the Method, that he had ‘spent all day entertaining his thoughts in an oven’, he wasn’t being completely absurd – just, you know, kind of weird.

Depending on where you fall on the scale between ‘Descartes was a stoner lol’ and ‘Descartes was a paragon of virtue, 10/10 no notes awesome dude’, what happened next was either the result of too much weed, too much oven, or too much being a fricking genius destined to reform all of Western philosophy. Either way, he had a pretty rough night, full of strange dreams and disturbing hallucinations* that even the loyal Baillet thought might be a sign he was going a little bonkers.

‘He acquaints us, That on the Tenth of November 1619, laying himself down Brim-full of Enthusiasm, and … having found that day the Foundations of the wonderful Science, he had Three dreams one presently after another; yet so extraordinary, as to make him fancy that they were sent him from above,’ writes Baillet, just in case you were wondering where on that scale Descartes would put himself. In fact, so sure was he of the divine nature of his dreams that, Baillet said, ‘a Man would have been apt to have believed that he had been a little Crack-brain’d, or that he might have drank a Cup too much that Evening before he went to Bed.

‘It was indeed, St. Martin’s Eve, and People used to make Merry that Night in the place where he was … but he assures us, that he had been very Sober all that Day, and that Evening too and that he had not touched a drop of Wine for Three Weeks together.’

Sure, René. Though honestly, the content of the dreams aren’t as noteworthy as the conclusions he drew from them – unless you think ‘walking through a storm to collect a melon from a guy’ is super weird, I guess. And goodness knows how he got from cantaloupe to conceptualism, but these three dreams are said to have given him the inspiration first for analytic geometry – that is, his maths stuff – and then the realisation that he could apply the same kind of logical rigour to philosophy. And I don’t want to minimise what Descartes achieved after this melon-based enlightenment – it takes guts to stand up in a world governed by strict ritual and belief and announce that not only is everyone around you an idiot, but also they probably don’t even exist, so there. But have you ever heard that saying about not being so open-minded that your brain falls out?

Well, 1619 was also the year that Descartes, writing under the pseudonym ‘Polybius Cosmopolitanus’ – Polybius being an ancient Greek historian, and Cosmopolitanus being Latin for ‘citizen of the world’ – released the Mathematical Thesaurus of Polybius Cosmopolitanus. It kind of sounds like a Terry Gilliam movie, but it was actually a proposal for a way to reform mathematics as a whole.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve never heard of it. It’s not as famous as the Discourse; in fact, it may not have ever even been completed. The important bit wasn’t what was contained inside the book, but who it was dedicated to: to ‘learned men throughout the world, and especially to the F.R.C. very famous in G[ermany].’

And who was this mysterious F.R.C? Descartes was specifically referencing the Frères de la Rose Croix. In English, they were known as the Brothers of the Rosy Cross – and, today, they’re called the Rosicrucians. So, you may have heard of the Rosicrucians, but it’s more likely you haven’t. Today, the term actually refers to two separate organisations, both of which claim to be the ‘real’ Rosicrucians and both of which denounce the other group as being a bunch of weirdos. They’re equally wrong on the first point, and equally right on the second: there’s no Rosicrucian group around today that is directly linked to the original group that Descartes was a fan of, and every iteration of the organisation is and always has been fucking bananas.

But people in search of a new outlook on the universe often don’t get to choose which batshit philosophy the world throws at them first, and Descartes had the peculiar fortune of going through his minor mental breakdown in early seventeenth-century Germany.

Between 1614 and 1616, three ‘manifestos’ were published in Germany. They were anonymous, recounting the tale of one Christian Rosenkreuz, a man who was born in 1378, travelled across the world, studied under Sufi mystics in the Middle East, came back to Europe to spread the knowledge he had gained in his travels, was rejected by Western scientists and philosophers, and so founded the Rosicrucian Order, a grand name for what was apparently a group of about eight nerdy virgins. All of this, the manifestos said, he accomplished by the age of about twenty-nine, after which he presumably just sat on his thumbs for a long old while since the next big thing he’s said to have done was die aged 106.

Now, some people have posited that everything you just read is false – a kind of early modern conspiracy theory. And yes, ‘Christian Rose-Cross’, as the name translates from German, is rather on the nose for the founder of a Christian sect, and, yes, it’s a bit farfetched for anybody to have lived for more than a century in the 1400s, and, yes, OK, so the last manifesto was almost certainly actually written by a German theologian named Johann Valentin Andreae, who was attempting to take the piss out of the whole thing and publicly renounced it when he realised people were taking him seriously – but that’s the thing: people did take it seriously. And one of the people who took it seriously seems to have been Descartes.

‘There is a single active power in things: love, charity, harmony,’ mused the philosopher most famous for radical doubt of everything that couldn’t be proved via logic alone. Not in any published work – these were the thoughts of Descartes the early-twenties guy just trying to figure his shit out, found years later in the journal he kept throughout his life.

Another: ‘The wind signifies spirit; movement with the passage of time signifies life; light signifies knowledge; heat signifies love; and instantaneous activity signifies creation. Every corporeal form acts through harmony. There are more wet things than dry things, and more cold things than hot, because if this were not so, the active elements would have won the battle too quickly and the world would not have lasted long.’

If that sounds, you know, completely ridiculous to you, that’s probably because we live in a post-Descartes world, and he didn’t. All this poor oven-baked idiot had at his disposal were a dream about melons, a steadfast conviction that he had been personally chosen by God to reform the entirety of Western thought up until that point, and some rumours about a weird sect of rosy German virgins who were devoted to doing just that.

You may have already guessed the next bit of the story: Descartes joins the Rosicrucians and embarks on some insane rituals and philosophies that we’ve never heard of today because it doesn’t fit in with our modern ideas of ‘genius’, right?

It’s actually way more stupid than that. In a series of events that, once again, really feels like it was ripped straight out of some cult comedy movie, Descartes tried to join the Rosicrucians, but kept running into the problem of them not, in fact, existing. So he couldn’t join the group, but what he could and did do was accidentally make everyone think he had joined, thus entirely screwing over his reputation as someone to take seriously.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this didn’t matter much, because to a lot of people he was dangerous enough even without all the conspiracy stuff: his insistence that truth was something for humans, not God, to judge, and the idea that authority should or even could be questioned, made him an enemy of most established Churches, so much so that he eventually published an extremely circular and nonsensical ‘proof’ of God’s existence to try to placate his attackers.

The irony was that Descartes knew God existed – otherwise who had told him to transform philosophy and mathematics via the medium of melons? And, ultimately, as hubristic as this claim was, Descartes did make good on it, publishing the end result of that night in the oven in the 1640s with a slew of philosophical and metaphysical treatises, which were hailed in his beloved Netherlands as ‘heretical’ and ‘contrary to orthodox theology’ and ‘get out of our goddamn town Descartes.’

Eventually, Descartes found refuge with Christina, Queen of Sweden, who was a fan of his ideas about science and love. She invited him to her court with the promises of setting up a new scientific academy and tutoring her personally. It seemed too good to be true. It was. In 1649, in the middle of winter, Descartes moved to Queen Christina’s cold, draughty Swedish castle and discovered that he couldn’t fucking stand his new boss or home. Worst of all for the philosopher who lived his entire life by the principle of never once waking up before noon, Christina declared that she could only be tutored at five in the morning, a demand that Descartes responded to as any night owl would: by saying ‘I would literally rather die’ and promptly proving his point by literally dying just a few months later. In his final act, the man famous for telling the world ‘I think, therefore I am’ had posed an equally unknowable philosophical conclusion: he would no longer think, and therefore he no longer existed.

Perhaps the final irony in the tale is that, as heretical as cogito ergo sum was considered at the time, with its previously unthinkably radical concept of doubting everything, even that which seems self-evident – modern philosophers have actually critiqued Descartes as not going far enough. Thinkers such as Kierkegaard have blasted Descartes for presupposing that ‘I’ exists at all, and Nietzsche for presupposing that ‘thinking’ exists.

I guess the moral of Descartes’s story, if there is one, is probably this: you can’t please all of the people all of the time – especially if they’re philosophers. So, honestly? Why not just smoke a bunch of weed and crawl into an oven?

* Some modern scientists have suggested that Descartes’s night in the oven may in fact be the earliest recorded experience of Exploding Head Syndrome, a sleep disorder you may well have had yourself once or twice. Despite the gnarly name, it doesn’t actually involve your head exploding – that would certainly have made Descartes’s future work more impressive – but it does cause you to hear loud bangs and crashes that aren’t really there, and sometimes see flashes of light as well, both of which Descartes recorded experiencing that night.

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US judge grants final approval to Apple’s $50 million ‘butterfly’ keyboard settlement

A US federal court this week gave final approval to the $50 million class-action settlement Apple came to last July resolving claims the company knew about and concealed the unreliable nature of keyboards on MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro computers released between 2015 and 2019. Per Reuters (via 9to5Mac), Judge Edward Davila on Thursday called the settlement involving Apple’s infamous “butterfly” keyboards “fair, adequate and reasonable.” Under the agreement, MacBook users impacted by the saga will receive settlements between $50 and $395. More than 86,000 claims for class member payments were made before the application deadline last March, Judge Davila wrote in his ruling.

Apple debuted the butterfly keyboard in 2015 with the 12-inch MacBook. At the time, former design chief Jony Ive boasted that the mechanism would allow the company to build ever-slimmer laptops without compromising on stability or typing feel. As Apple re-engineered more of its computers to incorporate the butterfly keyboard, Mac users found the design was susceptible to dust and other debris. The company introduced multiple revisions to make the mechanism more resilient before eventually returning to a more conventional keyboard design with the 16-inch MacBook Pro in late 2019.

Apple won’t have to admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement agreement. Before this week, some members of the class action lawsuit attempted to challenge the deal on the grounds that a proposed $125 payout for one group in the class was not enough, an appeal Judge Davila rejected. “The possibility that a better settlement may have been reached — or that the benefits provided under the settlement will not make class members 'whole' — are insufficient grounds to deny approval,” Davila wrote in his ruling. The judge also rejected a request for compensation from MacBook owners who experienced keyboard failures but did not get their computers serviced by Apple. There’s no word when claimants can expect their payment to be sent out, but the lawyers involved in the case said they “look forward to getting the money out to our clients.”

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Apple’s free My Photo Stream service will shut down on July 26th

Apple plans to shut down its My Photo Stream service on July 26th, 2023, the company announced on Friday. The free service has been available since the release of iCloud in 2011. You can use My Photo Stream to upload the last 30 days of images and videos – up to a limit of 1,000 – from your Apple devices to iCloud. My Photo Stream predates iCloud Photos and gave Apple users a way to access their images and video clips on more than one device. Notably, content uploaded to iCloud through My Photo Stream do not count against your iCloud storage cap, though they’re not saved at full resolution.

In a support document spotted by MacRumors, Apple says My Photo Stream will stop automatically uploading photos to the company’s servers on June 26th, 2023. At that point, your photos and videos will remain on iCloud for 30 days until the official shutdown on July 26th. Since every image and video uploaded to iCloud through My Photo Stream is stored in its original format and resolution on at least one of your Apple devices, you won’t lose any cherished memories as part of the shutdown process. That said, if you want to have access to a specific image on a particular device, Apple recommends you save it to that device’s Photo Library before July 26th.

On iPhone and iPad, you can save an image from your My Photo Stream by opening the Photos app, navigating to the My Photo Stream album, selecting the photo you want to save and then tapping the Share button to save it to your Library. Apple ends the support document by noting, “iCloud Photos is the best way to keep the photos and videos you take up to date across all your devices and safely stored in iCloud.”

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Dolphin emulator Steam release delayed indefinitely following Nintendo DMCA notice

Valve has delisted Dolphin from Steam after receiving a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice from Nintendo. In late March, the developers of Dolphin, an open source emulator that can run most GameCube and Wii titles, said they were planning to bring the free app to Valve’s storefront later this year. In a May 26th legal notice seen by PC Gamer, Nintendo's legal team asked Valve to remove Dolphin from Steam, claiming the emulator violates the company’s intellectual property rights.

"Because the Dolphin emulator violates Nintendo’s intellectual property rights, including but not limited to its rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)’s Anti-Circumvention and AntiTrafficking provisions, 17 U.S.C. § 1201, we provide this notice to you of your obligation to remove the offering of the Dolphin emulator from the Steam store," the document states.

With the notice, the Dolphin team has two options on how to move forward. It can either file a counter-claim with Valve, arguing the emulator doesn’t violate the DMCA as claimed by Nintendo, or it can choose to comply with the takedown notice. If the team files a counter-notice, Nintendo would have two weeks to decide whether to file a lawsuit. As PC Gamer notes, it’s unclear if the company actually intends to pursue legal action against Dolphin. However, if a case were to go to court, it could have far-reaching implications for emulators. For the time being, the Dolphin team says it’s deciding what to do next.

“It is with much disappointment that we have to announce that the Dolphin on Steam release has been indefinitely postponed,” the Dolphin Emulation Project said Friday. “We were notified by Valve that Nintendo has issued a cease and desist citing the DMCA against Dolphin's Steam page, and have removed Dolphin from Steam until the matter is settled. We are currently investigating our options and will have a more in-depth response in the near future.” As of the writing of this story, you can still download the Dolphin emulator from the project’s website and GitHub page. The Dolphin team did not receive a direct takedown notice from Nintendo.

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Twitter pulls out of EU’s voluntary Code of Practice against disinformation

Twitter has withdrawn from a voluntary European Union agreement to combat online disinformation. In a tweet spotted by TechCrunch, Thierry Breton, the bloc’s internal market commissioner, said Twitter had pulled out of the EU’s “Code of Practice” against disinformation. “You can run but you can’t hide. Our teams are ready for enforcement,” Breton said, referring to the EU’s Digital Services Act. As of August 25th, the DSA will require “very large online platforms” like Twitter to be more proactive with content moderation.

Twitter does not operate a communications department Engadget could contact for comment. Before Elon Musk's takeover last October, Twitter signed onto the EU’s Code of Practice against disinformation in 2018, alongside companies like Facebook parent Meta, Google and TikTok. While the Code is voluntary, the EU announced in June 2022 that sticking to the agreement would count towards DSA compliance. As TechCrunch notes, Twitter’s decision to withdraw from the deal just three months before the EU starts enforcing the DSA would appear to suggest the company plans to skirt the bloc’s rules on content moderation.

However, ignoring the DSA could turn into an expensive fight for Twitter and Elon Musk. The legislation allows EU officials to hand out penalties of up to 10 percent of global annual turnover for infractions, with the potential for fines of up to 20 percent of worldwide turnover for repeat instances of non-compliance. The European Commission has also said that repeat non-compliance could lead to the EU blocking access to offending services.

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iRobot's Roomba j7+ Combo vacuum is $300 off right now

Avoiding manual floor maintenance is a lovely thing, but a good robot vacuum will cost you. Our current favorite pick for a mop and vac combo, iRobot's Roomba j7+ usually sells for $1,099 but Wellbots will knock $300 off the list price when you use the code 300ENGADGET at checkout. That beats a $200 discount we saw earlier this year and represents an all-time low for a gadget that "earned its place" in on of our senior editors' smart home. Wellbots has a few other vacs on sale too, also with discount codes, listed below. 

Unlike some combo machines, in which you have to program where to mop and where to use the vacuum, the Roomba Combo j7+ senses when it's rolling over hard floors and drops down the on-board mop pad accordingly. It comes with a clean base, which sucks out the dry debris after a run, but you'll have to take care of adding and emptying the mop water yourself. iRobot machines continually top our lists, in part thanks to the accurate room mapping, easy-to-use app and excellent obstacle avoidance — qualities it shares with the vac-only sibling. 

Wellbots is currently discounting the Roomba j7+ by $220 when you use the code 220ENGADGET. That brings the unit down to $579, which also beats a previous discount from the same seller earlier this year, and is the lowest price we've seen outside of Black Friday promotions last November. The standard (non-combo) Roomba j7 is the runner up mid-range vac in our guide and this version simply includes a clean base to suck out the dirt after it runs. One thing we should note is that process is loud but it gets you a bit closer to fully autonomous cleaning. 

If you're fine with emptying the collected debris yourself, you can save a little on the base model Roomba j7. Wellbots is also offering $220 off that model, using the same code. That brings it down to just $379, which doesn't quite beat the deal Wellbots offered late last year, but is still a tidy discount.

And finally, if premium is what you want, you can get just that with iRobot's Roomba s9+. The same code also takes $220 off the $999 list price, making it $779 instead. It's the premium pick in our robot vacuum guide and comes complete with copper accents. Of course, doesn't just look pretty, our resident robot expert, senior commerce editor Valentina Palladino, calls it, "nothing if not one of the best robot vacuums out there."

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Japan's ispace says Hakuto-R crashed because it got confused by a crater rim

ispace is done analyzing data from its failed Hakuto-R lunar landing, and it sounds like tricky terrain and a late change in the landing site are to blame. Apparently, Hakuto-R was able to complete the whole deceleration process in preparation of touching down on lunar soil. The spacecraft activated its descent sequence when it reached an altitude of around 100 kilometers (62 miles) and was able to slow down until it was only moving at a speed of less than 1 m/s. 

However, its software had mistakenly estimated its altitude to be zero when it was still hovering around 5 kilometers (3 miles) above the ground. In other words, it thought it had already landed when it hasn't yet, and it continued descending at a very slow speed near the surface until its propulsion system ran out of fuel. ispace wasn't able to establish contact with the spacecraft again, but it believes it went on a free fall and ultimately crashed on the moon.

That's the how, but what about the why? Well, the company thinks the most likely reason why Hakuto-R's software suffered from an altitude estimation issue was because it got confused. While it was flying to its landing site, it passed over a large cliff that was determined to be the rim of a crater. The spacecraft's onboard sensor got an altitude reading of 3 kilometers when it passed by the elevated terrain, and that was apparently larger than the estimated altitude value the Hakuto-R team set in advance. 

The spacecraft's software erroneously thought that the sensor reported an abnormal value, and it kept filtering out its altitude measurements afterward. ispace built the ability to reject abnormal altitude measurements into the lander as a safety measure in the event of a hardware issue with the sensor. However, it backfired for Mission 1 because simulations of the landing sequence failed to incorporate the lunar environment on the spacecraft's route. ispace made the decision to change Hakuto-R's landing site after its critical design review was already completed in 2021. 

The Hakuto-R Mission 1 was poised to become the first successful moon landing by a private company and the first Japanese lunar landing overall. While it didn't get to land on the moon, ispace will use the data from the mission to design preparatory landing sequences for Mission 2 and 3, which are scheduled for launch in 2024 and 2025, respectively. 

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Company responsible for 7.5 billion robocalls sued by nearly every Attorney General

We can all agree that robocalls are the worst. While there might never be a way to get rid of them entirely (though agencies are certainly working on it), one the most prolific sources of these intrusions is finally getting hauled into court.

CBS News reports that Attorneys General from 48 states (as well as DC) are coming together to file a bipartisan lawsuit against Arizona-based Avid Telecom, its owner Michael D. Lansky and vice president Stacey S. Reeves. The 141-page suit claims that the company illegally made over 7.5 billion calls to people on the National Do Not Call Registry. Arizona Attorney General Kris Meyes claims that nearly 197 million robocalls were made to phone numbers in her state over a five-year period between December 2018 and January 2023.

The lawsuit says that Avid Telecom spoofed phone numbers, including 8.4 million that appeared to be coming from the government or law enforcement, and others disguised as originating from Amazon, DirecTV and many more. The suit alleges that Avid Telecom violated the Telephone and Consumer Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule and several other telemarketing and consumer laws. 

The AGs are asking the court to enjoin Avid Telecom from making illegal robocalls, and to pay damages and restitution to the people it called illegally. They're also pursuing several statutory avenues to make Avid cough of money on a per-violation basis, which given the enormous volume of calls it has made, could add up quickly. Sumco Panama, which was responsible for a comparatively smaller 5 billion robocalls, was fined nearly $300 million by the FCC late last year.

Earlier this month, it was reported that XCast Labs is being sued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over allegedly helping other companies call those on the National Do Not Call Registry.

In 2017, Dish reached a settlement that cost them $210 million. The company allegedly made millions of calls in an attempt to sell and promote its satellite TV service. Dish ultimately had to pay a $126 million civil fine to the US government, and $84 million to residents in California, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio. Hopefully, we’ll see a similar result with Avid Telecom.

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Google fined $32.5 million for infringing on Sonos patent

Google has just been hit with a $32.5 million penalty for infringing on a patent held by Sonos. According to Law360, a California federal jury ordered the fine after determining that Google infringed on a patent Sonos holds relating to grouping speakers so they can play audio at the same time, something the company has been doing for years. 

US District Judge William Alsup had already determined that early version of products like the Chromecast Audio and Google Home infringed on Sonos' patent; the question was whether more recent, revamped products were also infringing on the patent. The jury found in favor of Sonos, but decided a second patent — one that relates to controlling devices via a smartphone or other device — wasn't violated. They said that Sonos hadn't convincingly shown that the Google Home app infringed on that particular patent. This follows the dismissal of four other patent violations that Sonos originally sued over.

Google provided Engadget with the following statement: "This is a narrow dispute about some very specific features that are not commonly used. Of the six patents Sonos originally asserted, only one was found to be infringed, and the rest were dismissed as invalid or not infringed. We have always developed technology independently and competed on the merit of our ideas. We are considering our next steps.” 

Sonos provided Engadget with the following statement: "We are deeply grateful for the jury’s time and diligence in upholding the validity of our patents and recognizing the value of Sonos’s invention of zone scenes.  This verdict re-affirms that Google is a serial infringer of our patent portfolio, as the International Trade Commission has already ruled with respect to five other Sonos patents. In all, we believe Google infringes more than 200 Sonos patents and today’s damages award, based on one important piece of our portfolio, demonstrates the exceptional value of our intellectual property. Our goal remains for Google to pay us a fair royalty for the Sonos inventions it has appropriated."

Today's findings feels like a win for Sonos, who originally filed suit against Google all the way back in January of 2020. Specifically, Sonos claimed that Google gained knowledge of the patent through prior collaboration between the two companies, back they collaborated to allow for integration between Sonos's speakers and Google Play Music.

Since then, Google counter-sued Sonos, claiming that Sonos had in fact infringed its own patents around smart speakers. As with any good legal battle, Sonos then expanded its own lawsuit a few months later. More recently, Google sued Sonos in 2022, saying that its new voice assistant infringed on seven patents relating to the Google Assistant. 

Whether today's decision will slow the legal battle between the two companies remains to be seen, though we'd expect the bickering to continue full-throttle in the months to come. There are plenty of suits out there between the companies that aren't yet resolved, and we'd expect Google to appeal this decision as well. 

Update, May 26th 2023, 5:30PM ET: Added a statement from Google.

Update, May 26th 2023, 8:00PM ET: Added a statement from Sonos.

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Naughty Dog says its Last of Us multiplayer game needs more time in the oven

One of the most notable omissions from this week's PlayStation Showcase was anything from Naughty Dog. Many (including yours truly) expected the studio to reveal more details about its Last of Us multiplayer game, but we'll need to wait a little longer to learn more about that title.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Naughty Dog said "we're incredibly proud of the job our studio has done thus far, but as development has continued, we've realized what is best for the game is to give it more time." As such, it now seems unlikely that we'll hear much about the game during Summer Game Fest (where Naughty Dog offered a first peek at concept art from the project last year) on June 8th or on June 14th, which is the 10th anniversary of The Last Of Us arriving on PS3. 

In a blog post in January, studio co-president and The Last of Us co-creator Neil Druckmann said the studio would "begin to offer you some details on our ambitious The Last of Us multiplayer game" sometime this year. That suggests the studio wasn't planning to release the title in 2023. In any case, it's probably a good thing that Naughty Dog is taking its time to get things right. The studio won't want to be in a position where it's releasing a game that definitely could have used more time in the oven, as was the case with the buggy debut of The Last of Us Part 1 on PC.

Shortly after Naughty Dog released its statement on Twitter, Bloomberg published a report citing multiple unnamed sources who said the studio is reconsidering the viability of the multiplayer project. The report claims that the project has not been cancelled, but many of the developers working on it have been reassigned to other projects. Currently, a "small group" remains on the project as Naughty Dog evaluates what comes next.

Sony also reportedly asked another of its studies, Bungie, to evaluate the work that Naughty Dog had done on its unnamed Last of Us multiplayer game. Bungie apparently said it had doubts about whether the game could keep players engaged over a long period of time. Given Bungie's success at that with the Destiny franchise, it makes some sense that the studio was called in for an opinion, though it's also fair to say Destiny and The Last of Us are wildly different games. 

On a positive note, Naughty Dog says it has other games (plural) in development, "including a brand new single-player experience." It's been known for a while that the studio had at least one other game in the works, but it's not clear whether this single-player title will continue the main story of The Last of Us. Naughty Dog said it looks forward to "sharing more soon."

“I know the fans really want Last of Us Part 3. I hear about it all of the time and all I can say is that we’re already into our next project, so the decision has already been made," Druckmann toldKinda Funny in March. "I can’t say what it is, but that’s the process we went through, that there was a lot of consideration of different things, and we picked the thing we were most excited for.”

Update, May 26th 2023, 4:20PM ET: This story has been updated to include details about a report just published by Bloomberg on the future of the multiplayer game.

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Bluesky now lets you choose your own algorithm

Bluesky, the Jack Dorsey-backed decentralized Twitter alternative, has released one of its most significant updates to date: the ability for users to choose their own algorithms. The service, which is still in a closed beta, released its “custom feeds” feature, which allows people to subscribe to a range of different algorithms and make their own for others to follow.

In practice, the feature works a bit like pinning different lists to your home timeline on Twitter in that users can subscribe to multiple feeds and easily swipe between them in the app. But custom feeds, because they’re algorithmic, are also more powerful than simple account lists.

For example, there’s a feed dedicated to posts from your mutuals —people you follow who also follow you back. That may sound like a list, but unlike a Twitter list, the feed should change as you gain more mutual followers. And while Bluesky’s app stills defaults to the chronological “following” timeline, most custom feeds are not chronological.

Screenshot if the Bluesky app with custom feeds.`

The feeds also provide a window into the different communities forming on Bluesky, as well as what’s trending on the platform. There are already custom feeds devoted to furries, cat photos, queer shitposters, positive thoughts and the hellthread. Early adopters have been able to experiment with the feature for awhile thanks to third-party apps, like SkyFeed and Flipboard, which added the feature before BlueSky’s official app.

For now, creating a feed for Bluesky is open to anyone, though it’s “currently a technical process,” Bluesky’s protocol engineer Paul Frazee said in a post. “In future updates we'll make it easy for users to create custom feeds in-app.”

The update could end up being a defining feature of Bluesky. Jay Graber, CEO of Bluesky, has said that algorithmic choice could address “backlash against the perceived algorithmic manipulation of people’s timelines.” It also offers a hint of what’s to come for the early-stage platform. Graber has outlined a similar vision for content moderation with users in control of the level of moderation and filtering they want.

“Our goal is to assemble a social media architecture that composes third-party services into a seamless user experience, because an open ecosystem is likely to evolve more quickly than a single approach to curation or moderation developed within one company,” Graber wrote. “By creating the interfaces for innovation in these areas, we hope to provide a dynamic and user-driven social experience.”

The idea of custom algorithms is one that’s long been embraced by Jack Dorsey, who floated the idea of allowing users to choose their own algorithms multiple times while he was still running Twitter. It also comes as there is industry-wide scrutiny on how social media algorithms impact users and whether the companies running major platforms are, even inadvertently, putting their thumb on the scale for one group of users. The appeal of custom algorithms is that users know upfront what each feed is prioritizing and can easily move between different experiences, most of which are not controlled by the platform.

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How to watch the Summer Games Done Quick 2023 speedrun marathon

It's once again time to watch skilled gamers rip through their favorite titles as quickly as possible in the name of a good cause. Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ) is back with another week-long charity speedrun marathon. The event starts at 1PM ET on Sunday, May 28th and it will end in the early hours of June 4th. You'll be able to watch all the action as it happens on the Games Done Quick (GDQ) Twitch channel, which is embedded below. If you miss a run you're interested in, you'll be able to catch up later on the GDQ YouTube channel.

The action kicks off with the debut of Sonic Frontiers at SGDQ and the event will wrap up with a co-op run of Super Metroid (here's hoping the runners save the animals). There will be many, many runs in between, including half a dozen The Legend of Zelda titles. The heavy focus on Zelda probably shouldn't come as a surprise given that Tears of the Kingdom has taken over the gaming world over the last few weeks.

You'll be able to marvel at a runner beating Breath of the Wild in just a couple of hours while wearing a blindfold and another conquering Elden Ring as quickly as possible without using any glitches. I'm particularly looking forward to the Super Mario Maker 2 relay race. Those are always a blast at GDQ events. I'm also intrigued by runs of Ring Fit Adventure, Choo-Choo Charles,Hi-Fi Rush and one of my all-time favorite games, The Curse of Monkey Island. You can check out the full schedule on the GDQ website.

SGDQ will stream live from Minneapolis with an audience in attendance. GDQ events are so much better with a live crowd reacting to astonishing feats of video game prowess. Organizers will be hoping to raise millions more dollars for Doctors Without Borders after bringing in over $3 million during SGDQ 2022. They'll be aiming to beat the record for a GDQ event, which was set during Awesome Games Done Quick 2022. Over $3.4 million was raised for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. You'll be able to donate via the GDQ website.

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The best Memorial Day tech sales we could find

Apart from being a time to honor those who've served our country and the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day also brings a number of sales on various appliances and electronics. As we round into the holiday weekend, we've sorted through the cruft and picked out the best tech sales we could find ahead of this Memorial Day. The notable deals include $50 off Sony's excellentWH-1000XM5 headphones, Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K Max back at an all-time low of $35 and Apple's iPad Air down to $500. There are a few sweeping sales on other gear we like as well, including Solo Stove fire pits, Ooni pizza ovens, Samsung storage devices and PC games from the Epic Games Store. 

Amazon Fire TV streamer deals

Amazon has discounted all of its Fire TV streaming devices ahead of Memorial Day. The standout is the Fire TV Stick 4K Max for $35, which is a price we've seen several times before but still matches the device's all-time low. This is the fastest streaming stick Amazon sells, plus its remote comes with Alexa voice control baked in. If you just want a cheap way to put apps on an older 1080p display, the Fire TV Stick Lite is also worth considering at $20, which is $5 more than the lowest price we've seen. 

Beyond that, the base Fire TV Stick 4K is down to $32, the standard Fire TV Stick is down to $25, and the Fire TV Cube, which blends a 4K streamer with an Alexa smart speaker, is down to an all-time low of $120. All Fire TV streamers tend to prioritize Amazon's own content and stuff their UI with ads, so we generally recommend Roku and Google streamers to most people. (The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is an OK value at its current deal price of $40, though we've seen it go for less in the past.) Still, if you use services like Alexa and Prime Video on a regular basis, or if you just want to save a few bucks, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is mostly on par with its peers in terms of performance and app support. 

Sony headphone deals

Sony has put a number of headphones and earbuds back on sale, including the flagship WH-1000XM5 for $348. While that's not an all-time low, it's the first notable discount we've seen on the noise-cancelling over-ears since February and a $50 drop from the pair's usual going rate. The XM5s are the top pick in our guide to the best wireless headphones, and we gave them a review score of 95 last year thanks to their powerful ANC, lightweight design, punchy sound and deep feature set. 

If you want to save a little extra cash, the XM5's predecessor, the WH-1000XM4, is also worth a look at $278. Again, that's not the lowest these headphones ever been, but it's still $70 below their typical street price. This pair is slightly bulkier than the XM5, its sound is a bit boomier out of the box and it has a worse mic for phone calls. Its ANC, battery life and general feature set are similar, though, and it can fold up for easier storage. The XM5s also use an automatic ANC adjustment system, which some may prefer to avoid. We gave the XM4 a score of 94 back in 2020.

Samsung storage device deals

Samsung has kicked off another round of deals on its microSD cards, SSDs, thumb drives and other storage devices. The offers include the 128GB Samsung Pro Plus, the top pick in our best microSD card guide, paired with a USB reader for $18. That's $8 off its MSRP and a new low. (You can also get the card without the reader for a dollar less.) If you don't need something quite as fast, the Samsung Evo Select is the top value pick in that guide; its 256GB model is down to an all-time low of $18 as well.

Besides microSD cards, the Samsung Fit Plus, an ultracompact flash drive we recommend in our best SSDs guide, is back at a low of $15 for a 128GB model. A 2TB version of the T7 Shield, a rugged version of one of our favorite portable SSDs, is down to $120, while the 4TB model is available for $220. If you're looking for a PCIe Gen 4 SSD to upgrade a PlayStation 5 or high-power gaming PC, the 2TB version of the 980 Pro with an integrated heatsink is about $20 less than usual at $150. The speedier 990 Pro, meanwhile, is down to $100 for a 1TB unit, another all-time low.

Solo Stove sale

Solo Stove is running a site-wide Memorial Day sale that takes up to 45 percent off a number of its popular (mostly) smokeless fire pits. The discounts include the Bonfire 2.0 for $250, which is $150 off the medium-sized pit's MSRP and $50 off its usual street price. What's more, you can add the company's Mesa tabletop fire pit for no extra cost if you add it to your cart and use the code FREEMESA at checkout. Normally, the device goes for $120. The sale also includes the Pi Pizza Oven for $400, which is $100 off its typical going rate. We've sung the praises of Solo Stove's fire pits multiple times in the past, and we currently recommend the Pi in our pizza oven buying guide.

Ooni pizza oven sale

Ooni makes several of the other picks in our pizza oven guide, and this week it's discounted a couple of those as part of its own Memorial Day sale. The deals include the Fyra 12 for $244, which is $105 off its MSRP, and the Karu 16 for $639, which is a $160 discount. Both do well to actually make pies, but we recommend the former if you'd prefer a more compact oven that runs on wood pellets, while the latter is a larger and more versatile option for bigger servings that can use wood, charcoal or gas. We also recommend the Karu 16 in our guide to the best grills and grill accessories.

Epic Games Store Mega Sale

The Epic Games Store has rolled out its latest "Mega Sale," bringing discounts on a number of PC games. While the promotion includes a handful of decent price drops, its real value comes from the "Epic Coupon," which takes 25 percent off most purchases of $14.99 or more. The offer applies whether you buy one or multiple games at a time and stacks on top of any existing discounts. This brings many games back around their best prices to date: Red Dead Redemption II, for instance, is already on sale for $20, but with the coupon it drops to an all-time low of $15.

The coupon also works on games that aren't otherwise part of the sale, so you can take 25 percent off newer titles like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Dead Island 2, which haven't received major discounts elsewhere. (The former's PC port has had a rocky launch, to put it mildly, though a few patches have helped stabilize it.) And because the coupon renews after each eligible purchase, you can use it continuously until the promotion ends on June 15. It won't work on pre-orders, though. If you prefer to get your PC games through Steam, meanwhile, note that Valve's Summer Sale will kick off on June 29.

Apple Gift Card

If you pick up a $100 Apple gift card at Best Buy, the retailer will throw in a $10 Best Buy gift card for no extra cost. The offer also includes a few extended trials to Apple's TV+, Music and News+ subscriptions for new and returning subscribers. We see this deal periodically, but if you shop at Best Buy anyway and plan to use services like the App Store, Apple Music or iCloud, it essentially gets you a bit of free money. Just note that the deal only applies to digital gift cards, not physical ones.

Razer Huntsman Mini

The top pick in our guide to the best 60 percent keyboards, the Razer Huntsman Mini is down to $70 for a model with Razer's Clicky Optical switches. That's $5 more than the ultracompact gaming keyboard's all-time low but still about $15 less than its usual street price. If you prefer a quieter switch with a smoother feel while typing, a variant with Linear Optical switches is on sale for $80, which is about $20 below its typical going rate. Either way, we like the Huntsman Mini for its sturdy build quality, smooth PBT keycaps and per-key RGB backlighting.

Apple iPad Air

The latest iPad Air is once again down to $500, matching the second-best price we've seen and coming in $100 below Apple's MSRP. We gave the Air a review score of 90 last year and call it the best tablet for most people in our iPad buying guide. While it lacks the top-tier M2 chip, 120Hz refresh rate and improved speakers of the iPad Pro, it provides a similarly elegant design at a much lower price, with a better display, faster processor and wider accessory support than Apple's lower-end tablets.

Apple Mac Mini

Apple's entry-level Mac Mini is back on sale for $499, which matches the compact desktop's previous all-time low. This model includes Apple's M2 chip, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Those specs (along with the device's lack of upgradeability) mean you'll want to stick to relatively light workloads. However, if that's all you need, this is the most affordable route into a competent Mac desktop. If you need more storage, a version with a 512GB SSD is also on sale for $679, which is another all-time low. We gave the Mac Mini with a faster M2 Pro chip a review score of 86 earlier this year, but outside of the CPU bump and a couple extra Thunderbolt ports, the devices are virtually identical.

Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil has dropped to $85, tying the lowest price we've tracked for the iPad stylus. This is roughly $15 below the device's typical street price in recent months and $44 below Apple's MSRP. We recommend the Pencil in our best iPad accessories guide: For digital artists and note-takers, it's a consistently accurate pen and the only stylus to offer pressure sensitivity across iPadOS. It's also easy to charge and pair, since it can attach to the side of a recent iPad magnetically. Just make sure your iPad is compatible with this second-gen model if you want to take the plunge.

Intel and AMD CPU deals

If you're looking to build or upgrade a PC, we're seeing a handful of good prices on both Intel and AMD processors. Among the better deals available, the Intel Core i5-13500 is down to $210, which is about $40 below the chip's usual going rate and an all-time low. For something more powerful, the Core i7-13700F is available for a new low of $330, which is about $40 less than its typical street price. This is a strong performer for both gaming and productivity at that price; just note that it lacks an integrated GPU. If you prefer an AMD build, meanwhile, the Ryzen 7 7700X might be worth a look at $297. It's not as good of a value as something like the i7-13700F, especially since it requires an AM5 motherboard and DDR5 RAM to work, but it's still a solid mid-range option for gaming if you must have a Ryzen PC. 

Dashlane Premium sale

A password manager is a simple but effective way to boost your online security and simplify the amount of login credentials you need to remember. Dashlane is one of the better options available; in fact, it'll soon be a pick in an upcoming buying guide. If you want to give the service a try, you can get a year of Dashlane Premium for $30 when you use the code MEMDAY23 or MEMORIAL23 at checkout. That's a 50 percent discount. Though Dashlane has a free tier, the Premium plan lets you use the service across multiple devices. It also includes a bundled VPN, a password strength analyzer and "dark web monitoring," which lets you know if your email addresses have been leaked in data breaches.

Paramount Plus and Showtime bundle

Paramount has rolled out a promotion that gives new subscribers three months of its Paramount+ Premium + Showtime bundle for $6 per month, or $18 in total. That's half off its usual going rate. With the glut of streaming TV options available, it's hard to call Paramount+ essential, but we do list it in our guide to the best video streaming services for its growing sports coverage, kid-friendly Nickelodeon shows and original fare like Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Showtime, meanwhile, has its share of shows and movies worth checking out, from Yellowjackets to Billions to the recent Oscar winner Everything Everywhere All at Once. This offer is set to run until June 4. If you end up not digging the service, remember to cancel before the trial ends so your subscription doesn't auto-renew at full price.

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Swiss researchers use a wireless BCI to help a spinal injury patient walk more naturally

Ever year, more than a million people in North America suffer some form of spinal cord injury (SCI), with an annual cost of more than $7 billion to treat and rehabilitate those patients. The medical community has made incredible gains toward mitigating, if not reversing, the effects of paralysis in the last quarter-century including advances in pharmacology, stem cell technologies, neuromodulation, and external prosthetics. Electrical stimulation of the spinal cord has already shown especially promising results in helping spinal injury patients rehabilitate, improving not just extremity function but spasticity, bladder and blood pressure control as well. Now, in a study published in Nature Tuesday, SCI therapy startup Onward Medical, announced that it has helped improve a formerly-paraplegic man’s walking gait through the use of an implanted brain computer interface (BCI) and novel “digital bridge” that spans the gap where the spine was severed.

We’ve been zapping paraplegic patients’ spines with low-voltage jolts as part of their physical rehabilitation for years in a process known as Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES). Electrodes are placed directly over the nerves they’re intended to incite – externally bypassing their own disrupted neural pathways – and, when activated, cause the nerves underneath to fire and their muscles contract. Researchers have used this method to restore hand and arm motion in some patients, the ability to stand and walk in others and, for a lucky few, exosuits! The resulting limb motions however were decidedly ungraceful, resulting in ponderous arm movements and walking gaits that more resembled shuffles.

Onward’s earlier research into epidural electrical stimulation showed that it was effective at targeting nerves in the lower back that could be used to trigger leg muscles. But the therapy at that time was hampered by the need for wearable motion sensors, and by, “the participants … limited ability to adapt leg movements to changing terrain and volitional demands.“ Onward addressed that issue in Tuesday’s study by incorporating a “digital bridge” to monitor the brain’s command impulses and deliver them, wirelessly and in real-time, to a stimulation pack implanted in the patient’s lower back.

Clinicians have employed these systems for the better part of a decade to assist in improving upper extremity control and function following SCI – Onward’s own ARC EX system is designed to do just that – though this study was the first to apply the same theories to the lower extremities.

Onward’s patient was a 38-year-old man who had suffered an “incomplete cervical (C5/C6) spinal cord injury” a decade before and who had undergone a five-month neurorehabilitation program with “targeted epidural electrical stimulation of the spinal cord” in 2017. “This program enabled him to regain the ability to step with the help of a front-wheel walker,” the research team noted in the Nature study. “Despite continued use of the stimulation at home, for approximately three years, he had reached a neurological recovery plateau.”

In addition to the EX, Onward Medical has also developed an internally mounted electrostimulation therapy, the ARC IM. Per the company, it is”purpose-built for placement along the spinal cord to stimulate the dorsal roots,” to help improve SCI patients’ blood pressure regulation. The system used in Tuesday’s study used the ARC IM as a base and married it to a WIMAGINE brain computer interface.

Fig 1
Onward Medical

The Onward team had to first install the BCI inside the patient's skull. Technically, it was a pair of 64-lead electrode implants, each mounted in a 50-milimenter circular-shaped titanium case that sits flush with the skull. The WIMAGINE “is less invasive than other options while offering sufficient resolution to drive walking,” Dave Marver, OnwardMedical CEO, told Engadget via email. “It also has five-year data that demonstrates stability in the clarity of signals produced.”

Two external antennas sit on the scalp, the first providing power to the implants via inductive coupling, the second to shunt the signal to a portable base station for decoding and processing. The processed signal is then beamed wirelessly to the ACTIVA RC implantable pulse generator sitting atop the patient’s lumbar region where 16 more implanted electrodes shock the appropriate nerve clusters to move their legs. Together they form a Brain Spine Interface (BSI) system, per Onward.

The entire setup is designed to be used independently by the patient. The assistive walker houses all the BSI bits and pieces while a tactile feedback interface helps them correctly position the headset and calibrate the predictive algorithm.

In order to get the BCI and pulse generator to work together seamlessly, Onward leveraged a “Aksenova/Markov-switching multilinear algorithm that linked ECoG signals to the control of epidural electrical stimulation parameters,” which seems so obvious in hindsight. Basically, this algorithm predicts two things: the probability that the patient intends to move a specific joint based on the signals it’s monitoring, and both the amplitude and direction of that presumed intended movement. Those predictions are then dumped into an analog controller which translates them into code commands that are, in turn, cycled to the pulse generator every 300 milliseconds. In all, the latency between the patient thinking, “I should walk over there,” and the system decoding those thoughts is just 1.1 seconds.

Calibrating the system to the patient proved an equally quick process. The patient had figured out how to properly “activate” the muscles in their hips to generate enough torque to swing their legs within the first two minutes of trying — and did it with 97 percent accuracy. Over the course of the rehabilitation, the patient managed to achieve control over the movements of each joint in their leg (hip, knee and ankle) with an average accuracy (in that the BSI did what the patient intended) of around 75 percent.

“After only 5 min of calibration, the BSI supported continuous control over the activity of hip flexor muscles,” the team continued, “which enabled the participant to achieve a fivefold increase in muscle activity compared to attempts without the BSI” Unfortunately, those gains were wiped away as soon as the BCI was turned off, instantly losing the ability to step, they explained. “Walking resumed as soon as the BSI was turned back on.”

It wasn’t just that the patient was able to graduate from walking with a front-wheeled frame walker to crutches thanks to this procedure – their walking gait improved significantly as well. “Compared to stimulation alone, the BSI enabled walking with gait features that were markedly closer to those quantified in healthy individuals,” the Onward team wrote. The patient was even able to use the system to cross unpaved terrain while on their crutches, a feat that still routinely proves hazardous for many bipedal robots.

In all, the patient underwent 40 rehab sessions with the BCI – a mix of standard physio-rehab along with BCI-enabled balance, walking and movement exercises. The patient saw moderate gains in their sensory (light touch) scores but a whopping 10-point increase in their WISCI II scores. WISCI II is the Walking Index for Spinal Cord Injury, a 21-point scale measuring a patient’s ambulatory capacity ranging from 20, “can move zero assistance,” down to 0, “bed ridden.“ Onward’s patient went from a 6 to a 16 with the help of this therapy.

“As the participant had previously reached a plateau of recovery after intensive rehabilitation using spinal cord stimulation alone, it is reasonable to assume that the BSI triggered a reorganization of neuronal pathways that was responsible for the additional neurological recovery,” the Onward team wrote. “These results suggest that establishing a continuous link between the brain and spinal cord promotes the reorganization of residual neuronal pathways that link these two regions under normal physiological.”

While the results are promising, much work has yet to be done. The Onward team argues that future iterations will require “miniaturization of the base station, computing unit and unnoticeable antennas,” faster data throughputs, “versatile stimulation parameters, direct wireless control from the wearable computing unit,” and “single low-power integrated circuit embedding a neuromorphic processor with self-calibration capability that autonomously translates cortical activity into updates of stimulation programs.”

Despite the daunting technical challenges, “the BCI system described in Tuesday’s Nature publication may reach the market in five to seven years,” Marver predicted. ”It is possible and realistic that a BCI-augmented spinal cord stimulation therapy will be on the market by the end of the decade.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The best DACs for Apple Music Lossless in 2023

The “Apple effect” can be as helpful as it is infuriating. A good technology can exist for years, and many won’t care until it gets the Cupertino seal of approval. To that end, a lot of people are starting to care about “high resolution” digital audio as the company launched its upgraded music service to the masses.

But as many were quick to point out, some of Apple’s own products don’t necessarily support the higher sample rate and bit-depths on offer. No worries, there’s a dongle for that. (And there are options for Android and the desktop, too.) 

As hinted, it's not just Apple in on the hi-resolution game: Qobuz, Tidal and Deezer have been doing it for a while, and Spotify is planning on introducing its own version soon. The products in this guide will play nice with any of these services, aside from Tidal's MQA, which is a little more specific (and we have options for that as well).

Why do I need new hardware to listen to music?

The best DACs for Apple Music Lossless 2021

The short answer is, you don’t. You can play “hi-res” audio files on most phones and PCs, you just might not be getting the full experience. If your device’s audio interface tops out at 44.1 or 48kHz (which is fairly common and covers the vast majority of music online) then that’s the experience you’ll get. If you want to enjoy music at a higher sample rate and bit-depth (aka resolution), you’ll need an interface that supports it and wired headphones.

It’s worth pointing out that “lossless” and “hi-res” are related terms, but not the same thing and will vary from service to service. Apple uses ALAC encoding which is compressed, but without “loss” to the quality (unlike the ubiquitous .aac or .mp3 file formats). CDs were generally mastered to at least 16-bit / 44.1kHz which is the benchmark that Apple is using for its definition of lossless. In audio circles, a general consensus is that hi-res is anything with a sample rate above 44.1kHz. Increasingly, though, the term is being used for anything 96kHz and above.

This, of course, isn’t only about Apple’s new streaming formats. External DACs and audio interfaces are a great way to get the best sound and upgrade your listening experience generally. Especially if you want to get into the world of more exotic (read: pricey) headphones, as they often even require a DAC to provide enough clean signal to drive them. For audiophile headphones, a phone or laptop’s built-in sound chip often doesn’t have the oomph needed.

Okay, but can’t I just use the headphone adapter for my phone?

No. Well, yes, but see above. A Lightning or USB-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter often is an audio interface and most of the ones you’re buying for $7 (or that come free in the box) do not support hi-res audio beyond 48kHz / 24-bit. Android is a little more complicated, as some adapters are “passive” and really just connect you to the phone’s internal DAC like old school headphones. Others (active ones) have a DAC built-in and good luck finding out what your specific phone and the in-box adapter delivers. (Hint: connect it to a PC and see if it comes up as an audio interface. You might find some details there if it does).

What is a “DAC,” though?

Best DACs for Apple Music Lossless in 2021.
Billy Steele / Engadget

A digital-to-analog converter takes the digital (D) music from your phone or computer and converts (C) it into analog (A) sound you can hear. All phones and PCs have them, but since handsets moved to USB-C, Lightning or Bluetooth for music, the task of converting that signal was generally outsourced to either your adapter or your wireless headphones.

DACs can be used with phones, laptops and desktops but tend to be much simpler than a regular external audio interface. One basic distinction is that DACs are usually for listening only whereas an audio interface might have ports to plug in microphones and instruments (but an external audio interface is also technically a DAC).

The benefit of DACs is that they tend to be lightweight, making them more suitable for mobile use, although it still gets a little tricky with the iPhone as you still might need to add another dongle to make it play nice with Lightning. Also, not all DACs support all the higher audio resolutions. Most DACs require external power or an onboard battery, though some can use the power from whatever you plug them into — in which case expect a hit to your battery life. Below are some of our picks for a variety of scenarios.

Best for Android users looking for a simple, affordable option: Ugreen USB-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter

Okay, you were expecting serious outboard gear and we start by showing you a basic adapter? Yes, because this one supports 96kHz audio (24-bit) and is about as straightforward as you can get. Simply plug into your USB-C device (or USB-A with an… adapter), connect your headphones and away you go. There are no buttons, no controls, nothing to charge.

While this dongle doesn’t support 192kHz, the move up to 96kHz is still firmly in the “hi-res” audio category, and its super low profile and ease of use make it a great option for those that want an audio quality bump without going full-bore external DAC.

Of course, this budget DAC is best suited to devices with a USB-C port such as the iPad Pro, MacBook or most Android phones. As noted earlier, it’s possible your Android already supports hi-res audio and a simple passive dongle is all you need, but given the price and quality of this one, at least you know what you’re getting, as the specific details of audio support for every Android phone out there are often hard to find.

The downside is that this adapter won’t do much to help drive higher impedance headphones, so it’s less suited to audiophiles who really need more power to drive their favorite cans. I used this on both an Android phone and an iMac and it worked just fine, although with Apple computers you need to head to the Audio/MIDI settings first to make sure you’re getting the highest quality available.

Best for streamlined desktop use with high-end headphones: Apogee Groove

Apogee gear is usually found in the studio. The Groove takes the company’s decades of audio experience and squeezes it into a highly portable DAC that’s perfect for those who want a lightweight option for their desktop or laptop. We’re stepping up the sound quality here with support for 192 kHz (24-bit), which will cover everything from Apple’s new lossless service.

Connecting your iPhone to the Groove is a little more complicated. It works just fine, but you’ll need something like the Apple Camera kit, as it needs external power. In short, it gets a bit “dongly” but it works if you want something for your desktop first, that can do double duty on iPhone. Android support is a little hit and miss, though you would still need a way to feed it power while in use.

Once you’re set up, just plug in your headphones and you’re away. The rubberized base of the Groove stops it from shifting around on your desk, and the large buttons make controlling volume a breeze, with LED feedback to show you volume levels.

Audio sounds dynamic, with a generous bump in gain over whatever you’re plugging it into likely offers. The frequency response is flat meaning you get out exactly what you put in audio-wise, making this a great choice if the connectivity (and price) matches your specific use case.

Best for power and portability: AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt

Bar the Ugreen dongle, the Dragonfly is easily the smallest, most portable device on this list. And better yet, it almost certainly works with your phone, PC or laptop and won’t require a dedicated power supply (despite the lack of a built-in battery). You’ll still need an adapter for phones (USB-A to Lightning or USB-A to USB-C for Android) but otherwise, it’s plug and play. There’s no volume control, just one 3.5mm headphone jack and a color-changing LED (to tell you what sample rate the track you’re listening to is using).

At $300, it’s a pricey proposition, but the cable spaghetti of some devices or the sheer heft of others, means the Dragonfly’s small footprint and rugged simplicity make it refreshingly discreet and simple. AudioQuest also offers two cheaper models, starting at $100 that are likely more than good enough for most people.

Don’t let the Dragonfly’s size and lack of controls fool you, the Cobalt throws out some serious, high quality sound. According to AudioQuest, the maximum resolution has been intentionally limited to 96kHz for the “optimal” experience, and that’s plenty enough to cover what you’ll get from most music services.

The output from the in-built headphone amp will make your phone’s audio feel positively wimpy by comparison, and the powerful internal sound processing chip delivers crystal clear audio with a wide soundstage across a range of genres and formats.

One extra trick up the Dragonfly’s sleeve is native support for Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) files. This is the preferred format of Tidal, so if that’s your service of choice, the Dragonfly is ideal.

Best for super high resolution: Fiio Q3

Fiio has been a popular name in the portable DAC scene for a while now, and for good reason. The products deliver solid audio quality, support all manner of resolutions and are compatible with a wide range of devices. The Q3 is bigger than the previous options on this list (it’s about 1cm shorter than an iPhone 4), but remains fully portable. There are even some goofy silicone bands so you can strap it to your phone, rather than have a flappy, heavy appendage.

For users on the go, the Q3’s built-in battery (good for about eight hours) means you won’t need to drain the power on whatever you’re plugging it into. It also means mobile users won’t need a dreaded second cable. Throw in support for three different size headphone jacks (sadly, ¼-inch isn’t one of them) and you have a DAC that will serve you souped-up sounds wherever you are and whatever you’re listening to.

There isn’t a display, which you might expect for something this size, but there is an LED that changes color when you’re listening to something higher than 48kHz, so you can tell which tracks in your streaming service’s library really are higher-res. The dedicated volume control doubles as a power knob and there’s also a “bass boost” switch just like the good old days. On top of the USB-C input, there’s also the option for analog audio sources via the 3.5mm port.

Even if you’re not listening to high sample rate music, the Q3 sounds fantastic. The difference in volume, punch and dynamic range that comes through in songs that sounded flat and dense when listening directly through a phone or laptop was remarkable. Throw in support for all the hertz and bit-depths that you’ll likely ever need and what’s not to like? Especially as the Q3 comes in cheaper than some of the less capable options in this guide (the slight extra heft will be a key factor here).

Best for high resolution / fans of Tidal: iFi Hip Dac

If this were a spec race, it’d be a photo finish between Fiio’s Q3 and iFi’s Hip Dac. Like the Q3, the Hip Dac blows right past support for 192kHz right up to 384kHz. It also offers balanced output via 4.4mm headphones which is rare to find on consumer headphones, but some higher-end cans offer it for those who want to eliminate any potential interference. There’s also an internal battery, bass boost and a very similar form-factor to the Q3.

For anyone interested in either of these two it might come down to a single feature. Be that the highest sample rate it can support (Q3 wins) or its ability to decode Tidal’s MQA files (in which case, you want the Hip Dac).

The sound out of this thing takes on the Q3 blow for blow and even the same knurled volume control is here. But let’s be honest, the fact it looks like (and was named after) a hip flask is clearly also a major selling point. Though it's worth mentioning the Hip Dac takes a female USB cable, supplied in the box. But this does mean you'll need to use the Camera Kit to get into the iPhone, whereas the Q3 works with one single provided cable.

Regardless, it’s another robust option that will more than cover most bases for most people. As with the Q3, the internal battery means you won’t need to feed it power while in use (estimated eight hours) and connecting it to your phone or computer is the same; as long as you can pipe a USB cable into it, you’re good to go.

Best for desktop warriors: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Only looking for a desktop DAC? Then a good old fashioned audio interface might be the best choice for you. Focusrite’s Scarlett series has near-legendary status at this point and an eye-wateringly high review ratio on Amazon for a good reason: It does what it does very very well.

Most current laptops and desktops can probably handle at least 96kHz audio, but with the Scarlett you can be sure you are getting the full 192kHz when available and the dedicated audio processors and headphone amps will do a much better job of it.

The main benefit here is the general upgrade you will be giving to your PC. Not only will your listening experience be enhanced, but you’ll be able to plug in microphones and instruments if streaming or recording are your thing, all in one device and all for about the same price as some of the more mobile-oriented devices on this list.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at