Friday Five: Gadgets, grammar gaffes and robot wars

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Old gadgets could jeopardise smart future

How many old phones have you got gathering dust in that kitchen drawer you do your best never to look in? Not to mention old laptops, tablets and so on. A study has estimated that 40 million unused gadgets are languishing in UK homes, and to be honest even that sounds like a conservative figure.

Not only is that bad for the environment but each device contains valuable and increasingly endangered elements, such as the metal indium, which could run out within 100 years if we don’t start recycling these items properly. Some 500,000 tonnes of electronic waste is recycled in the UK each year, but that’s only a fraction of the ‘E-waste’ piling up in landfill — and that kitchen drawer.

2. Grammar gaffes grounded by Gmail

Ever dashed off a quick email then realised with horror you’ve put “next weak” or muddled up there/their/they’re? Well, help is at hand from Gmail, which is rolling out a new update that’ll point out spelling and grammar mistakes as you type. For basic typos, Gmail will automatically correct the spelling, while grammar gaffes will be marked with a squiggly blue line.

It’s the latest useful bit of AI wizardry from Gmail to hit the streets, following Smart Reply and autocomplete. And while I welcome anything that saves me from looking foolish, I do worry that it makes me a bit complacent on the few remaining platforms that don’t correct my errors (I know it’s not ‘beleive’, my fingers just do that).

3. Brits happy to click, less so to actually collect

Click and collect is on the rise in the UK, with 71% of shoppers using the service for at least some of their online shopping, but it seems a lot of us are forgetting to do the ‘collect’ part. A survey of 2,000 people found that 15% had failed to collect their items from the store, with a total of £228m having to be refunded back to shoppers.

Reasons ranged from long waiting times (25%) to poorly staffed collection points (25%) to difficulties in locating the click and collect desk (17% — and really?). Although having to return uncollected stock is a pain, 89% of the 250 UK stores surveyed reported an increase in footfall since introducing click and collect, while 97% said they’ve benefited from additional revenue generated by the service.

4. Robot fighting back on YouTube — for now

We all knew the day would come when robots were considered to be sentient beings, but it’s come a bit earlier than expected, with the news that YouTube removed several videos of robots fighting in Robot Wars-esque battles because of rules prohibiting ‘the deliberate infliction of animal suffering’.

OK, so YouTube has now said the videos were removed in error (it’s not known whether it was an AI mistake or an overzealous moderator) and they are available to view again. But surely it’s only a matter of time before the robots decide to make us fight for their pleasure…

5. FogCam set to drift into the mists of time

After 25 years of continuous operation, the internet’s longest-running webcam is shutting down. Jeff Schwartz and Dan Wong set up the San Francisco FogCam on the State University campus in 1994 as an experiment when they were learning to script.

It wasn’t the first webcam though — that accolade goes to a group of Cambridge University academics who set up the Trojan Room Coffee Pot cam (so they could see if the coffee pot was full) in 1991, thereby actually predating the invention of the web by a couple of years!

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