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The tech story - since 2010

US
By US Desk
Fri, 01, 20

Language naturally evolves and expands over time, adding new words, changing the meaning of others and sending others still to the vocabulary pasture....

BITS ‘N’ PIECES

Algorithm

In computing terms, this means a set of rules or a step-by-step process for performing a task. As a word it’s far older than the decade we finished, but it gained notoriety over the past few years as the influence of social media has grown. Companies such as Facebook and Twitter use algorithms to determine which posts they present to you and in what order. Or, in YouTube’s case, an algorithm decides which videos are in the “Up Next” box. Most of the time these algorithms work well, but they’re also being blamed for presenting hoax news stories, creating filter bubbles (where you only see information that reinforces your beliefs) and recommending videos with hateful content. In response to the criticism, some services have tweaked their algorithms to give their users more control over what content is shown.

Artificial intelligence

John McCarthy, the man who coined the term, described it as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs.” By “intelligent machine,” he meant machines that can mimic things the human mind can do, such as solving problems or learning new information and adapting to it. Examples include self-driving cars and voice assistants, but the topic is also controversial (as in, AI could have the power to end humanity).

Because

Language naturally evolves and expands over time, adding new words, changing the meaning of others and sending others still to the vocabulary pasture. And during the 2010s, one of the most common words in the English language expanded to a new part of speech when “because” became both a conjunction and a preposition. Today there’s no need to follow it with a pesky excess word like “of.” Rather, just follow it with an appropriate noun, like “I was late because sleep.” It’s also a way to conveniently explain complex topics in an ambiguous way. “Dark matter exists because science!” And it’s a way to be ambiguous about simple topics. For example, “I didn’t finish doing that because reasons” is especially popular.

Binge watching

Especially popular with streaming content, which is programming that’s delivered over the internet rather than a traditional cable channel, this is the viewing of several episodes of a television programme (or parts of a film franchise) in rapid succession.

Emoji

An evolution of the emoticon (remember the smiley?) that originated in Japan, emoji are images commonly used in texting, chat programmes and social media to convey a specific word or meaning. An example of emoji (the word is both singular and plural) is thumbs up (or down). The style of emoji can differ between platforms, but there’s a consortium that approves and standardizes them. Acceptable in both personal and business communication, they can save typing time when you’re in a hurry. And who knows one day they may be the only way we communicate.

Influencer

Yes, this has become a real job at which people can make millions. Sigh. Though “influencer” primarily refers to something that influences something else, its contemporary definition is a person with the power to change opinions or drive behaviours of a large audience online, primarily through social media (Instagram in particular). They can encourage their fans to buy products through endorsements, rally for a political candidate or generate hype for a failed music concert in the Bahamas. Influencers can include established celebrities such as actors, musicians and athletes, but they also can be people with shorter CVs who are famous simply for being famous. Subsets of influencers are YouTubers (a person on YouTube), streamers (someone who livestreams their content rather than precording it), VSCO girls (young, usually white, women who edit their Instagram photos in an app called VSCO) and Instagays (attractive and musclebound men who live a fabulous life online when the reality may be anything but).

Internet of things

This refers to the trend of connecting everyday items to the Internet. A linchpin for the concept of the smart home, IoT devices can include doorbells with cameras that you can view while at work, thermostats you can control remotely and refrigerators that order your groceries for you. The list of possibilities is endless, and it isn’t limited to products that predated the Internet. Some IoT devices, like voice assistants exist only because they have an online connection. While IoT gadgets can bring convenience, there’s a robust debate over whether they’re vulnerable to hacking.

Selfie

These photos of yourself, taken with the second camera on your phone, are both a blessing and a curse. Sure, you don’t have to ask someone to shoot you and your friends in front of the Tower of London or with a celebrity, but selfie takers, eager for their Instagram-worthy shot, have ruined landscapes, killed animals, shattered monuments and destroyed art. Some selfie-takers have even died in the process. And then there’s the dreaded selfie stick. Variations include groufie (a selfie of a large group), dronie (a selfie taken by a drone), belfie (a “bottom selfie,” or a photo of your toned bum), welfie (a selfie with material items to show your wealth) and slofie (a short slow-motion selfie video on the iPhone 11).

Swipe right

On the dating apps Tinder and Bumble, a user swipes right on a potential date’s photo to show they’re interested and swipes left to show they’re not. But the term has graduated beyond the apps to describe your acceptance of pretty much anything, from a person to a hamburger to a car. “I’d swipe right on those shoes.”

Tweetstorm

This is a series of tweets in rapid succession used to convey a long message beyond Twitter’s 280-character limit (also true when tweets were just 140 characters). A person can use a tweetstorm to tell long stories, state a detailed opinion or make an impassioned argument. Proper tweetstorms break each tweet in the storm into complete sentences and clearly indicate how many tweets are in the storm. But not everyone does it that way.

Virtual reality

It predated the decade, but the 2010s brought the term mainstream with actual products. As you might guess, virtual reality replaces the real world with a completely virtual one, whether it is the bottom of the ocean or a planet in the Star Wars universe. To make that happen, VR requires a person to wear a headset like the Oculus Go that completely blocks their view. Augmented reality is when you’re looking at the real world, but it’s enhanced or augmented with other data. That can be accomplished through a pair of smart glasses like Microsoft’s HoloLens or even through a game on your phone like Pokemon Go. As its name implies, mixed reality is a mix between the two. It projects virtual images onto the real world through the camera on a phone, tablet, glasses or headset, but also anchors them to a point in real space.

Voice assistant

Also known as virtual assistants or digital assistants, voice assistants use speech recognition software to interpret commands or questions from human voices and respond or answer accordingly. Because they listen to your command and then make a decision they “think” you want, voice assistants also use artificial intelligence and machine learning. They can perform a great number of tasks, from telling you the day’s weather to composing an email to turning up the music on your stereo. Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Samsung’s Bixby and Amazon’s Alexa are all examples of the technology. Smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo or Apple Homepod are internet-connected speakers integrated with voice assistants. But as with other smart home products, the digital security of smart speakers remains a critical issue.