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What the Arrival of A.I. Phones and Computers Means for Our Data

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Apple, Microsoft and Google are heralding a new era of what they describe as artificially intelligent smartphones and computers. The devices, they say, will automate tasks like editing photos and wishing a friend a happy birthday.

But to make that work, these companies need something from you: more data.

In this new paradigm, your Windows computer will take a screenshot of everything you do every few seconds. An iPhone will stitch together information across many apps you use. And an Android phone can listen to a call in real time to alert you to a scam.

Is this information you are willing to share?

This change has significant implications for our privacy. To provide the new bespoke services, the companies and their devices need more persistent, intimate access to our data than before. In the past, the way we used apps and pulled up files and photos on phones and computers was relatively siloed. A.I. needs an overview to connect the dots between what we do across apps, websites and communications, security experts say.

“Do I feel safe giving this information to this company?” Cliff Steinhauer, a director at the National Cybersecurity Alliance, a nonprofit focusing on cybersecurity, said about the companies’ A.I. strategies.

All of this is happening because OpenAI’s ChatGPT upended the tech industry nearly two years ago. Apple, Google, Microsoft and others have since overhauled their product strategies, investing billions in new services under the umbrella term of A.I. They are convinced this new type of computing interface — one that is constantly studying what you are doing to offer assistance — will become indispensable.

The biggest potential security risk with this change stems from a subtle shift happening in the way our new devices work, experts say. Because A.I. can automate complex actions — like scrubbing unwanted objects from a photo — it sometimes requires more computational power than our phones can handle. That means more of our personal data may have to leave our phones to be dealt with elsewhere.

The information is being transmitted to the so-called cloud, a network of servers that are processing the requests. Once information reaches the cloud, it could be seen by others, including company employees, bad actors and government agencies. And while some of our data has always been stored in the cloud, our most deeply personal, intimate data that was once for our eyes only — photos, messages and emails — now may be connected and analyzed by a company on its servers.

The tech companies say they have gone to great lengths to secure people’s data.

For now, it’s important to understand what will happen to our information when we use A.I. tools, so I got more information from the companies on their data practices and interviewed security experts. I plan to wait and see whether the technologies work well enough before deciding whether it’s worth it to share my data.

Here’s what to know.

Apple recently announced Apple Intelligence, a suite of A.I. services and its first major entry into the A.I. race.

The new A.I. services will be built into its fastest iPhones, iPads and Macs starting this fall. People will be able to use it to automatically remove unwanted objects from photos, create summaries of web articles and write responses to text messages and emails. Apple is also overhauling its voice assistant, Siri, to make it more conversational and give it access to data across apps.

During Apple’s conference this month when it introduced Apple Intelligence, the company’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, shared how it could work: Mr. Federighi pulled up an email from a colleague asking him to push back a meeting, but he was supposed to see a play that night starring his daughter. His phone then pulled up his calendar, a document containing details about the play and a maps app to predict whether he would be late to the play if he agreed to a meeting at a later time.

Apple said it was striving to process most of the A.I. data directly on its phones and computers, which would prevent others, including Apple, from having access to the information. But for tasks that have to be pushed to servers, Apple said, it has developed safeguards, including scrambling the data through encryption and immediately deleting it.

Apple has also put measures in place so that its employees do not have access to the data, the company said. Apple also said it would allow security researchers to audit its technology to make sure it was living up to its promises.

Apple’s commitment to purging user data from its servers sets it apart from other companies that hold on to data. But Apple has been unclear about which new Siri requests could be sent to the company’s servers, said Matthew Green, a security researcher and an associate professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, who was briefed by Apple on its new technology. Anything that leaves your device is inherently less secure, he said.

Apple said that when Apple Intelligence is released, users would be able to see a report of what requests are leaving the device to be processed in the cloud.

Microsoft is bringing A.I. to the old-fashioned laptop.

Last week, it began rolling out Windows computers called Copilot+ PC, which start at $1,000. The computers contain a new type of chip and other gear that Microsoft says will keep your data private and secure. The PCs can generate images and rewrite documents, among other new A.I.-powered features.

The company also introduced Recall, a new system to help users quickly find documents and files they have worked on, emails they have read or websites they have browsed. Microsoft compares Recall to having a photographic memory built into your PC.

To use it, you can type casual phrases, such as “I’m thinking of a video call I had with Joe recently when he was holding an ‘I Love New York’ coffee mug.” The computer will then retrieve the recording of the video call containing those details.

To accomplish this, Recall takes screenshots every five seconds of what the user is doing on the machine and compiles those images into a searchable database. The snapshots are stored and analyzed directly on the PC, so the data is not reviewed by Microsoft or used to improve its A.I., the company said.

Still, security researchers warned about potential risks, explaining that the data could easily expose everything you’ve ever typed or viewed if it was hacked. In response, Microsoft, which had intended to roll out Recall last week, postponed its release indefinitely.

The PCs come outfitted with Microsoft’s new Windows 11 operating system. It has multiple layers of security, said David Weston, a company executive overseeing security.

Google last month also announced a suite of A.I. services.

One of its biggest reveals was a new A.I.-powered scam detector for phone calls. The tool listens to phone calls in real time, and if the caller sounds like a potential scammer (for instance, if the caller asks for a banking PIN), the company notifies you. Google said people would have to activate the scam detector, which is completely operated by the phone. That means Google will not listen to the calls.

Google announced another feature, Ask Photos, that does require sending information to the company’s servers. Users can ask questions like “When did my daughter learn to swim?” to surface the first images of their child swimming.

Google said its workers could, in rare cases, review the Ask Photos conversations and photo data to address abuse or harm, and the information might also be used to help improve its photos app. To put it another way, your question and the photo of your child swimming could be used to help other parents find images of their children swimming.

Google said its cloud was locked down with security technologies like encryption and protocols to limit employee access to data.

“Our privacy-protecting approach applies to our A.I. features, no matter if they are powered on-device or in the cloud,” Suzanne Frey, a Google executive overseeing trust and privacy, said in a statement.

But Mr. Green, the security researcher, said Google’s approach to A.I. privacy felt relatively opaque.

“I don’t like the idea that my very personal photos and very personal searches are going out to a cloud that isn’t under my control,” he said.



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NYT Strands hints, answers for July 21

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If you’re reading this, you’re looking for a little help playing Strands, the New York Times‘ elevated word-search game.

By providing an opaque hint and not providing the word list, Strands creates a brain-teasing game that takes a little longer to play than its other games, like Wordle and Connections.

If you’re feeling stuck or just don’t have 10 or more minutes to figure out today’s puzzle, we’ve got all the NYT Strands hints for today’s puzzle you need to progress at your preferred pace.

NYT Strands hint for today’s theme: S-words? (a cutting-edge theme!)

The hint really gets to the point.

Mashable Top Stories

Today’s NYT Strands theme plainly explained

The clue refers to types of swords.

NYT Strands spangram hint: Is it vertical or horizontal?

Today’s NYT Strands spangram is horizontal.

NYT Strands spangram answer today:

Today’s spangram is Blades.

NYT Strands word list for July 21

  • Claymore

  • Scimitar

  • Katana

  • Cutlass

  • Blades

  • Rapier

  • Machete

Looking for other daily online games? Find one you might like – or hints for another game you’re already playing – on Mashable’s Games page.





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The Gamma PS1 emulator for iOS gets Multitap support and better audio

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The Gamma PS1 emulator has gained a number of significant updates since it launched as one of the first console emulators for iPhones in May. Recent updates added a new “Enhance Audio” feature and better multiplayer support, joining other key updates over the last few weeks.

Developer Benjamin Stark (aka ZodTTD) told The Verge in an email that the Enhance Audio feature in his most recent update improves audio “using reverb and interpolation effects.” He also “added Multitap emulation” for games that used Sony’s adapter that expanded the PS1’s controller port count from two to four. (That was used for games like Crash Team Racing, NBA Jam: Tournament Edition, and more.)

In other recent updates, Stark added analog stick support for games that used the Sony Dual Shock controller and the ability to switch discs without going back to the main menu for multidisc games like Metal Gear Solid. He also introduced a new “Pro” upgrade for $4.99 that turns ads off entirely.



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Bethesda Game Studios employees form a ‘wall-to-wall’ union

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Employees at Bethesda Game Studios — the Microsoft-owned game developer that produces the Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises — are joining the Communication Workers of America.

Quality assurance testers at Bethesda’s parent organization ZeniMax unionized last year, becoming Microsoft’s first official union in the United States. In its announcement, the CWA calls Bethesda’s new union “the first wall-to-wall union at a Microsoft game studio,” because it stretches across development teams and job titles, including artists, engineers, programmers, and designers. 

The CWA says the union will represent a total of 241 workers who have either signed a union card or indicated that they want to join via an online portal. It also says Microsoft has recognized the union (a voluntary step that avoids an election and precedes the actual contract negotiation).

A Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat the company supports “employees’ right to choose how they are represented in the workplace” and that it “will engage in good faith negotiations with the CWA.” (TechCrunch has also reached out to Microsoft for comment.)

“We are so excited to announce our union at Bethesda Game Studio and join the movement sweeping across the video game industry,” said Mandi Parker, a senior system designer at Bethesda, in a statement. “It is clear that every worker can benefit from bringing democracy into the workplace and securing a protected voice on the job.”



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