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The Future of Digital Assistants Is Queer

The Future of Digital Assistants Is Queer

Queering the smart wife could mean, in its simplest form, affording digital assistants different personalities that more accurately represent the many versions of femininity that exist around the world, as opposed to the pleasing, subservient personality that many companies have chosen to adopt.

Q would be a fair case of what queering these devices could look like, Strengers adds, “but that can’t be the only solution.” Another option could be bringing in masculinity in different ways. One example might be Pepper, a humanoid robot developed by Softbank Robotics that is often ascribed he/him pronouns, and is able to recognize faces and basic human emotions. Or Jibo, another robot, introduced back in 2017, that also used masculine pronouns and was marketed as a social robot for the home, though it has since been given a second life as a device focused on health care and education. Given the “gentle and effeminate” masculinity performed by Pepper and Jibo—for instance, the first responds to questions in a polite manner and frequently offers flirtatious looks, and the latter often swiveled whimsically and approached users with an endearing demeanor—Strengers and Kennedy see them as positive steps in the right direction.

Queering digital assistants could also result in creating bot personalities to replace humanized notions of technology. When Eno, the Capital One baking robot launched in 2019, is asked about its gender, it will playfully reply: “I’m binary. I don’t mean I’m both, I mean I’m actually just ones and zeroes. Think of me as a bot.”

Similarly, Kai, an online banking chatbot developed by Kasisto—an organization that builds AI software for online banking—abandons human characteristics altogether. Jacqueline Feldman, the Massachusetts-based writer and UX designer who created Kai, explained that the bot “was designed to be genderless.” Not by assuming a nonbinary identity, as Q does, but rather by assuming a robot-specific identity and using “it” pronouns. “From my perspective as a designer, a bot could be beautifully designed and charming in new ways that are specific to the bot, without it pretending to be human,” she says.

When asked if it was a real person, Kai would say, “A bot is a bot is a bot. Next question, please,” clearly signaling to users that it wasn’t human nor pretending to be. And if asked about gender, it would answer, “As a bot, I’m not a human. But I learn. That’s machine learning.”

A bot identity doesn’t mean Kai takes abuse. A few years ago, Feldman also talked about deliberately designing Kai with an ability to deflect and shut down harassment. For example, if a user repeatedly harassed the bot, Kai would respond with something like “I’m envisioning white sand and a hammock, please try me later!” “I really did my best to give the bot some dignity,” Feldman told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2017.

Still, Feldman believes there’s an ethical imperative for bots to self-identify as bots. “There’s a lack of transparency when companies that design [bots] make it easy for the person interacting with the bot to forget that it’s a bot,” she says, and gendering bots or giving them a human voice makes that much more difficult. Since many consumer experiences with chatbots can be frustrating and so many people would rather speak to a person, Feldman thinks affording bots human qualities could be a case of “over-designing.”

Capture Your Daring Feats With Our Favorite Action Cameras

Capture Your Daring Feats With Our Favorite Action Cameras

Choosing the right action camera used to be simple: Go with GoPro. It’s still good advice. The GoPro ranks high on our list and is our top pick for most people. But we’ve finally found a few worthy competitors.

To figure out which cameras are the best, we tried them all. We dove with them, climbed with them, biked with them, and handed them to reckless 9-year-olds on bikes. We found a number of great options that will record, and survive, your future adventures.

If an action cam isn’t your speed, be sure to check out our Best Compact Camera, Best Mirrorless Camera, and Best Instant Camera guides as well.

Updated November 2021: We’ve added the DJI Action 2 camera and updated pricing throughout.

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13 Great Black Friday Deals on Google Devices We Like

13 Great Black Friday Deals on Google Devices We Like

Google Nest Hub

Nest Hub

Photograph: Google

Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond

Smart displays are very similar to smart speakers in that they have many of the same functions, but as you might surmise, they have a screen. It’s helpful because when you ask for the weather report, as an example, you’ll be able to see all the details for yourself. This model is small enough to be useful on the nightstand or kitchen counter (and there is no camera). It can also track your sleep, though the feature was in beta when we tested it and wasn’t very polished.

Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart

The benefit of having a camera on a smart display is that you can make video calls with friends and family. On the Nest Hub Max (8/10, WIRED Recommends), it works through the Google Duo app. This display has better speakers than its sibling above, and a larger screen that makes it nicer for following recipes, and if you ever need it to pause an alarm, timer, or song, just show it your palm—handy if you’re in the kitchen and don’t want to touch the screen.

Smart Home Deals

Nest security camera

Nest Cam

Photograph: Nest

Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart

The new Nest Cam is in our guide to the Best Outdoor Security Cameras, but it works just as well indoors. This one is battery-operated, so you can place it pretty much anywhere (within range of your Wi-Fi network), and the battery only needs to be recharged after a month or more. When you need to charge it, you can just take it off the mount—it attaches magnetically. The 1080p video quality is solid, and the motion alerts are seamless. You can pay for a Nest Aware subscription ($6 per month) so it can learn faces, have access to a 60-day event history, and more. The corded version is also on sale for a significantly cheaper $80 ($20 off).

Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Walmart

We haven’t tested the Nest Doorbell, but this new model adds HDR and night vision. The sun or streetlights won’t blow out the image and ruin your footage. You can get alerts customized for people, packages, animals, and cars, and you can talk through the doorbell when you’re not home. 

Target, Amazon, Best Buy

We have not tried this model, but we’ve tested and liked previous Nest Thermostats. You can control your home’s heating and cooling system from your phone and set schedules. It can remind you when to change your filter, and it can detect when you leave the home to turn on Eco mode to save energy. 

How Iran Tried to Undermine the 2020 US Presidential Election

How Iran Tried to Undermine the 2020 US Presidential Election

Less than two weeks before the 2020 US presidential election, tens of thousands of emails purportedly from the far-right group Proud Boys threatened to “come after” Democrats if they didn’t vote for Trump. As officials warned at the time, the messages were part of a broader Iranian disinformation and influence campaign meant to sow division in the US and undermine confidence in the electoral process. Now, the US Department of Justice has unsealed an indictment that charges two Iranian nationals with carrying out those email blasts and more, providing new details on an audacious election interference scheme.

Seyyed Mohammad Hosein Musa Kazemi, 24, and Sajjad Kashian, 27, face charges of conspiracy, transmission of interstate threats, computer fraud, and voter intimidation. The two allegedly worked for the Iranian cybersecurity company Emennet Pasargad, which Justice Department officials say has contracted with the Iranian government. In addition to the indictment, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions on Thursday against the company, four members of its leadership, and the two defendants.

“As alleged, Kazemi and Kashian were part of a coordinated conspiracy in which Iranian hackers sought to undermine faith and confidence in the US presidential elections,”  Damian Williams, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement on Thursday. “As a result of the charges unsealed today, and the concurrent efforts of our US government partners, Kazemi and Kashian will forever look over their shoulders as we strive to bring them to justice.”

Officials said that they believe the defendants are currently in Iran. The State Department announced a reward of up to $10 million for information about Kazemi and Kashian.

Court documents say that, in addition to the threatening email campaign, the two men also attempted to compromise voter registration databases in 11 states and succeeded in one, where they were able to grab more than 100,000 voters’ private data because of a misconfiguration. Officials declined to identify the state, but The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2020 that it was Alaska.

The defendants are also accused of hacking an unnamed media company that offers content management services to a number of newspapers and other publications around the US. After detecting the activity, the FBI warned the company, which took action to block the unauthorized access. Officials say that the attackers attempted to connect to the media company’s network the day after the election but found themselves shut out. Iranian hackers are known for crafting and distributing legitimate-looking fake news articles or even seemingly hacking real news sites to post manufactured content. 

The indictment also accuses the defendants of carrying out other types of influence operations. Again masquerading as the Proud Boys, they allegedly sent Facebook messages and emails to Republican members of Congress, Trump campaign staffers, and journalists, claiming that the Democratic party planned to exploit security vulnerabilities in state voter registration sites, edit mail ballots, and register fake voters. They also allegedly created and distributed a fake hacking demonstration video on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook that appeared to show attackers exploiting election infrastructure vulnerabilities to compromise state voter websites and other platforms and generate fraudulent absentee ballots.

Humans Are On Track to Export Our Environmental Woes to Space

Humans Are On Track to Export Our Environmental Woes to Space

To be clear, space is not exactly the Wild West. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty—the Magna Carta of space law—set out a framework and key principles to guide responsible behavior in space. Negotiated and drafted during the Cold War era of heightened political tensions, the binding treaty largely addresses concerns during a time when apocalypse was a much more imminent threat than space junk. For one, it prohibited the deployment of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in space. Four other international treaties exclusively dealing with outer space and related activities followed. These include the Liability Convention of 1972, which establishes who should be accountable for damage caused by space objects, and the Moon Agreement of 1979, which attempts to prevent commercial exploitation of outer space resources, like mining resources to set up lunar colonies.

Today, what have now become run-of-the-mill space activities (think plans to launch constellations of hundreds to tens of thousands of satellites or even ambitious proposals to extract resources from near-Earth asteroids) are beholden to rules drawn up at a time when such activity lay in the realm of science fiction.

The governing documents surrounding space law are vague when it comes to many of the scenarios now cropping up, and the Moon Agreement has too few signatories to be effective. As a result, private space companies today can look at the foundational half-century-old Outer Space Treaty and the four agreements that followed and reinterpret them in ways that could favor their bottom line, according to Jakhu. For instance, efforts to mine asteroids have been buoyed by the argument that, according to the Outer Space Treaty, governments can’t extract natural resources from an asteroid and keep them—but private companies can. (At best, the granddaddy of space treaties provides no clear answer on the legality of mining asteroids.) Because private companies prioritize making money, “the basic rules of outer space need to be expanded, built upon, and enforced.”

Efforts have been made to address this problem. Regulatory bodies like the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and experts from governmental, non-governmental, and commercial space have gotten together to hash out the building blocks for new governance to address current gaps in space law. Given the flurry of outer space activity in recent years, UNOOSA has drafted some widely accepted guidelines for debris mitigation and long-term sustainability. (The guidelines suggest safe debris mitigation, removal practices, and overall good behavior, such as advising that all space objects be registered and tracked and that 90 percent of them be removed from orbit by the end of their mission.) These—like most efforts to address policy gaps in space law—are “soft law,” or a non-binding international instrument that no one is under any legal obligation to comply with. Still, some nations—like the United States, China, and India—have incorporated norms from international legal principles for good behavior in space into their national legislation for licensing space activities.

Multinational initiatives led by individual space-faring countries, such as the recent US-sponsored Artemis Accords, signal an alternative route. Named for NASA’s Moon-bound human-spaceflight program, they are general guidelines for nations to follow as they explore the Moon—namely, be peaceful, work together, and don’t leave any junk. Yet the Accords have not yet been signed by key US allies and space partners, like Germany and France. Meanwhile, a concrete path to an international agreement could come soon. In the first week of November, representatives from the UK proposed that the United Nations organize a working group—the first step in treaty negotiations—to develop new norms of international behavior beyond Earth.

The 25 Best Early Black Friday Deals at Best Buy

The 25 Best Early Black Friday Deals at Best Buy

Many shipping times are already delayed this year due to supply chain issues and labor shortages. It’s best to start shopping now for those on your holiday list instead of waiting for the last possible moment. Best Buy started its holiday deals event early, with Black Friday prices guaranteed—if the price drops lower before Black Friday, Best Buy will refund you the difference, though there are a few caveats (explained below). Here are some of our favorite products discounted so far.

Updated November 16: We’ve added a bunch more deals throughout each section below, including a Keurig, OnePlus 8T, Surface Laptop Go, and more. We also removed deals that are no longer active, like the Moto G and a Roomba.

WIRED’s Early Black Friday Coverage

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Best Buy’s Black Friday Price Guarantee

There are a few things you need to know about Best Buy’s holiday promotion. First, you need a My Best Buy membership (free). If a product you buy drops in price before November 26 (Black Friday), then you will be refunded the difference on December 15. Only the products listed as Black Friday Price Guarantee are eligible. That said, if you see Our Lowest Price of the Season on a product, that’s the price it will remain through January 8, 2022. 

None of this means prices won’t drop further on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but Best Buy says it has limited stock. Our advice? Try to see what the product you want sells for at other retailers to make sure the Best Buy price is actually a deal. We have more Black Friday tips here. 

Best Buy also has an extended return window for any purchases you make from October 18 through January 2, 2022. You have until January 16 to return the item, so if a product does dip further on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, it’s worth buying it and returning the one you got at a higher price. There are some exclusions to this return policy, like holiday products (decorations, artificial trees) and items bought with third-party contracts, like a cellphone with a cellular plan.  

Home Deals

a pink round nest mini speaker on white background

Google Nest Mini

Photograph: Google

We love the second-generation Nest Mini, and it’s frequently discounted. Its audio is better than the previous version, and it won’t take up too much space in your house. This is one of the most affordable ways to venture into a smart home. You can ask Google Assistant anything you’d search on Google and have it control your smart lights, robot vacuum, and smart AC, among other devices. 

Even on sale, this price is jarring, but we really liked using the Tempo Studio (8/10, WIRED Recommends). This version includes an accessory pack with a wireless heart rate monitor, a recovery roller, two extra collars, and a 25-pound stainless steel and chrome barbell. If you only need the basics, you can get it discounted directly from the Tempo site for $1,995. You’ll need to pay an additional $39 a month for a subscription, but if you’re paying more for a monthly gym membership and aren’t happy with it, you may like this better, and it could even save you money over time. 

Philips toothbrush in multiple colors

Philips One by Sonicare

Photograph: Philips

This is one of our favorite electric toothbrushes. It’s not the most powerful one available, but it’s thin and light, and it offers just a gentle vibration to aid in your cleaning. This is the rechargeable version, but the AAA battery-operated one is also on sale for $15 ($10 off).

Not everyone is a Keurig fan, and if you’re a really avid coffee drinker it’s worth upgrading to something else. However, sometimes you just need one quick cup, and that’s where a Keurig works. This one is super compact, so it won’t take up much room on a counter, and it has a very pretty design from Jonathan Adler. It goes on sale frequently, but $50 is the lowest we’ve seen it.

The Arlo Pro 4 is our favorite outdoor camera (that you can use indoors too!). This bundle comes with three cameras, four rechargeable batteries, a charging station, “anti-theft” mounts, and a yard sign. It has a wide 160-degree field of view and records up to 2K resolution with HDR. But, as we note in our review, you’ll need an Arlo Secure plan ($3 per month for one camera) to get the most out of this camera’s features.

Lenovo smart clock

Lenovo Smart Clock

Photograph: Lenovo

We like this smart display for bedside tables because it’s compact without being unusable. Its 4-inch screen is probably too small for comfortably watching movies, but it’s a great little digital photo frame and a nice way to see weather updates, alarms, and results from your Google Assistant search queries. There’s also a USB port so you can plug your phone directly into it to recharge. If you don’t need a touchscreen display but want the smart capabilities, go for Lenovo’s Smart Clock Essential for $30 ($20 off). It even has a night-light on the back. 

Aura makes our favorite photo frames. They’re pricey, and this deal isn’t the best we’ve ever seen. Still, they’re easy to use and the photos look nearly analog. It makes a great gift. 

Streaming Deals

Roku Streaming Stick 4K and headphones

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Photograph: Best Buy

We like all Roku devices, especially the Streaming Sticks, and this is one of the newest versions. It doesn’t have hands-free voice or programmable shortcuts on the remote the way the new 4K Plus version does, but it still has a microphone button you can use.

If you’re a fan of Amazon’s Prime Video offerings, you may prefer this streaming device, which is geared heavily toward all Amazon content. This is the brand’s newest 4K device, which we haven’t yet tried, but we liked the older version and it has not changed drastically.

Need a new TV? This one has Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built in, so you can ask them to search for shows or answer any other questions you might have. Even with smart features, we think most TVs need a dedicated streaming stick like the ones above. We’ve rounded up more TV deals here.

This TV typically goes for a little less than the $1,200 price listed on Best Buy, but this is still a solid discount. We’re big fans of Sony’s A90J, which is unfortunately not on sale right now, but this one is usually much cheaper—the X90J is an LED TV, while the A90J is OLED. Still, you can get a nice-looking TV without shelling out nearly $3,000. The bigger sizes are discounted as well.

Headphone Deals

Jabra Elite 85t with case

Jabra Elite 85T

Photograph: Jabra

These earbuds (9/10, WIRED Recommends) are pricey, but they have excellent sound quality and noise-cancellation. The best part of Jabra’s buds is that they’re rugged, have a two-year warranty against water damage, and have physical buttons for controlling music playback. Jabra also does a great job of supporting its older devices with new features and updates.

These cute little Buds2 (9/10, WIRED Recommends) are comfortable to wear and sound great with their dual-driver system. They’re rated IPX2 for water resistance, so you can work out with them. Plus they come in lavender or olive (in addition to the standard black and white)!

The Galaxy Buds Pro (9/10, WIRED Recommends) are good for everything, and they’re better than Apple’s AirPods in nearly every way: They sound better, are more comfortable, and have longer battery life. WIRED associate reviews editor Parker Hall says he can go from Zoom meetings to listening to music on a run, and these earbuds perform well every time. They’re now $20 less than they were when this deal started.

These are $15 more than they were last week when the sale started. We haven’t tested them, but we generally like the brand. These JBL Tour One headphones are also on sale for $250 ($50 off). Read our Best Wireless Headphones guide for more options.

Storage Deals (Hard Drives and SSD)

Samsung T7 SSD

Samsung T7 500 GB Portable SSD

Photograph: Samsung

This is one of our favorite portable drives for its speed. It’s light but tough, thanks to its metal body, so you can take it anywhere and not worry about it getting damaged. It was $5 less last week, but this is still a good deal if you’re in the market for a fast solid state drive.

We haven’t tried this particular Samsung internal SSD, but the brand is known for making some of the best, and this one gets solid reviews elsewhere. If you need your computer to run faster, this should help. If you need more gigabytes, the other sizes are discounted as well.

This Easystore drive is essentially the same as the Elements drive we recommend in our guide, but this one doesn’t have a power button. They’re fine for backups and storage, but WIRED senior writer Scott Gilbertson doesn’t recommend them for editing video or anything else where speed is essential. Just know that while it sometimes jumps to $110, it usually goes for around $60. For a ton more storage, the 18-terabyte hard drive is discounted to $340 ($80 off).

Phone and Tablet Deals

Image may contain Cell Phone Electronics Mobile Phone and Phone

OnePlus 8T

Photograph: OnePlus

This is the 2020 iPad Pro model with 256 gigabytes of storage. You can get the 2021 iPad Pro for $100 more, but that one starts with 128 GB. You’re not missing too much from the newer model, so this is still a solid deal if you need extra space.  If you need more storage, the 512-gigabyte 4th-gen iPad Pro is discounted to $1,100 ($200 off) and the 1-terabyte version is $1,300 ($200 off).

We really liked using this cell phone, and even though OnePlus has raised its once super affordable prices, this is still a solid deal. The 8T has a nice quad-camera system and a full day of battery. If you desperately need a phone, you’ll probably be happy with this, but we saw more phones discounted last week and hope that they’ll come back.

Laptop and Monitor Deals

chromebook

Acer Chromebook Spin 713.

Photograph: Acer

You’ll find this Acer Chromebook in our Best Chromebooks guide. It has one of the nicest screens on a Chromebook at this price, and the Intel Core i5 chip gives it plenty of power. It’s also a 2-in-1, so you can rotate the screen all the way back and use it as a tablet. The best part? It has fantastic battery life. 

Want to spend even less? We haven’t tested the Spin 514 yet, but we have tried machines with AMD’s Ryzen 3 processors so we feel comfortable saying that this Chromebook will be sufficient for school-level tasks. You also get a 1080p screen and a MicroSD card slot. 

Image may contain Electronics Pc Computer and Laptop

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

Photograph: Microsoft

This is typically what the 64-gigabyte version costs, so you can get double the storage for the same price. We like other Surfaces more, but the Go is great for, as you might have guessed by the name, taking with you wherever you go because it’s light and small. But the screen resolution is where you’ll notice the budget—text can look a little pixelated.

We prefer the newer Flex 5i, but the 5 is still solid if you want to save a few bucks. You can use it as a tablet or laptop as you please. It’s powered by an Intel Pentium 7505 Processor, and you should get about 10 hours of battery life.

If you’re in need of a monitor to up your gaming setup (or work-from-home setup), this is a pretty solid deal on a monitor of this size. It also supports HDR, something we don’t typically see at this price point.

WIRED’s Early Black Friday Coverage

Early Black Friday Sales Pages

Want to browse the sales yourself? Here are a few places offering early Black Friday deals. Be sure to check out our many buying guides and gift guides for additional ideas.

  • Amazon Sale
  • Target Sale, Coupons
  • Walmart Sale, Coupons
  • Bed, Bath, and Beyond Sale, Coupons
  • REI Get Up Get Out Sale
  • Best Buy Sale, Coupons
  • QVC Sale, Coupons
  • Kohl’s, Coupons
  • Moosejaw Sale, Coupons
  • Adorama Sale, Coupons

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