Friday Five: digital dressing and life beyond GPS

Zone’s Matt Blackwell handpicks and shares the five best stories on new digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Mapping out the future of navigation

From built-in car sat navs to getting around an unfamiliar city while on holiday, we’ve come to rely on GPS pretty heavily. But the tech is fallible (as I discovered on a recent trip to Germany) — just ask anyone who’s tried to use it in a tunnel or when surrounded by tall buildings.

Researchers from France and England are now turning to nature — specifically the unique skills of desert ants — to solve the shortcomings of satellite-based navigation. Using a combination of UV light sensors and algorithms that mimic desert ants’ brains, the teams have come up with systems that are more reliable than GPS and could prove invaluable for the moon’s next explorers or soldiers in unknown territory.

2. Digitally dress to impress your virtual friends

It’s widely acknowledged that if you didn’t take pictures of something and post them on social media then it pretty much didn’t happen. But this has been taken to the extreme, with a digital-only dress (as in, it doesn’t actually exist) recently selling on blockchain for more than £7,500. I mean. I don’t even know where to begin here.

The argument is that digital fashion houses like The Fabricant and Carlings are more sustainable, but — spoiler alert — until walking around naked is an option, I fear we’re always going to need physical clothes. So surely the very existence of such companies creates a needless carbon footprint? Consider my millennial mind blown.

3. Making history with AI

Next week marks 30 years since Chinese forces cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations and killed anywhere between hundreds and thousands of protesters in Tiananmen Square. Although you wouldn’t know that if you were in China, where AI has been employed to cleanse the internet of any mention, reference or allusion to the massacre.

Government censorship is nothing new of course, but thanks to advancements in machine learning, voice and image recognition, countries now have the power to effortlessly rewrite history to suit their whim. And I don’t know about you, but I find that kinda terrifying.

4. The lasting legacy of Tamagotchis

If you’re in your late 20s or early 30s, it’s likely that you had an emotional bond with a Tamagotchi at some point. But did you know that the small, egg-shaped piece of plastic may have moulded the person you are today? Two decades after their heyday, Tamagotchis are being credited for the way a generation interacts with tech, from social media to smartphones.

For many, the digital pets offered an introduction to death and the realities of caring for something that was ‘alive’. Beyond this though, Tamagotchis also paved the way for a world in which our smart devices are never far from our person and obsessive behaviours related to tech and gaming have recently been classified as a disease.

5. Figuring out Facebook’s friend zone

Ever received a slightly leftfield friend suggestion from Facebook? You’re not alone. The platform has always been coy about what powers the People You May Know algorithm, changing its story several times. Theories range from it being based on people who view your profile to paranoia that Facebook listens in on conversations.

It’d be nice if Facebook could clear things up, especially when the feature threatens the safety sex workers or breaches the privacy of patients in therapy. One of the few things we know for sure is that it’s partly driven by data you’ve (often unwittingly) uploaded from your contacts. You can find out whether you’ve done that here.

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