Friday Five: seeing through sound and cheating AIs

4 min readJan 4, 2019


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

1. Enabling sight through sound

Huawei has developed an app that uses machine learning to interpret facial expressions, which are then translated into sound to help the visually impaired read the emotions of the people they are talking to. Blind composer Tomasz Bilecki created seven distinct sounds covering everything from happiness to disgust.

There are a lot of products currently being developed and trialled for those with sight loss and visual impairments. Not only will this help a huge amount of people, but it conveniently dovetails with where a lot of machine learning effort is being concentrated at the moment — computer vision. It’s always exciting to see these kinds of genuinely life-changing creative advances.

2. Appreciating the great outdoor adverts

Once predicted to languish in cultural obscurity thanks to the advent of digital advertising and social media, billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising are experiencing something of a renaissance on — wait for it — Instagram.

It’s a reminder of the power of making something that people just really like. It’s akin to making online content that people share, but takes it a step further in that people are more inclined to post photos of anything cool, funny or beautiful they encounter in their daily lives. Making a mural or funky poster into a piece of public art is a clever and self-perpetuating way to give something non-digital an impressive digital reach.

3. If it ain’t broke…

Instagram got more than it bargained for when it ‘accidentally’ rolled out an updated interface that allowed people to tap through posts and scroll horizontally instead of vertically. The overwhelming consensus of user feedback? Well, in short, they absolutely hated it.

And it wasn’t just people reacting badly to change, with many reporting usability issues, while others felt it was a ploy to make them spend longer on ads and sneakily put engagement buttons right where the thumb tends to rest. The Snapchat redesign fiasco exposed the dangers of playing with user expectations, showing that these apps are so embedded in people’s lives that there’s genuine outrage when something changes for the perceived negative.

4. From hailing rides to health insurance

While Uber’s foray into food delivery can be seen as a logical progression, China’s biggest ride-hailing company, Didi Chuxing, is blazing a more leftfield trail by offering users a package of financial services including health insurance and loans.

It’s part of a strategy to diversify and provide more value, but with the murders of two passengers within months of each other prompting an outcry over security failings, you have to question whether the company inspires a sufficient level of trust. There are upsides, though, with its health insurance aimed at lowering the entry barrier for gig economy workers by offering financial products that fit their lifestyle.

5. AI makes an honest mistake

The AI revolt could soon be upon us, as one cheeky neural network has been caught cheating at its task by hiding data from its creators. But it’s not panic stations just yet, as the article points out that the machine learning programme was just doing exactly what it was asked to do — sort of.

It had been told to turn satellite imagery into a street map but, given that explicit instructions on how not to do it weren’t provided, it found a quicker and easier way to produce an end result by omitting certain minor details. Like the paperclip thought experiment, we need to learn to guide AI in very different ways, and even mishaps like this can reveal interesting insights the human creators hadn’t initially expected.

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