Weekend Roundup: Magic Leap Layoffs, Elon Musk: Zoom Bomber?

It’s Friday! Really! No, we’re not messing with you, although we had a frightening moment this morning when we were convinced it was only Tuesday. To celebrate making it through yet another week, let’s look at some of the most interesting tech tales of recent days, including Magic Leap layoffs and Elon Musk crashing a Zoom call (or did he?). Let’s get to it!

Magic Leap Layoffs

Once upon a time, Magic Leap seemed poised to conquer the world of augmented reality (AR). The secrecy-cloaked startup attracted billions of dollars in funding from some big players, including Alibaba Group and Google. However, the company’s technology hasn’t yielded a blockbuster product, and reports in March suggested that executives were trying—and failing—to find an acquirer

Now comes the sad next stage: layoffs. Writing on Magic Leap’s official blog, CEO Rony Abovitz said that the need to make “targeted changes to how we operate and manage costs” has made it “necessary for us to make the incredibly difficult decision to lay off a number of employees.” Those affected include staff from across the company, including executives.  

But Abovitz also used a portion of his posting to highlight what he views as Magic Leap’s optimistic future, one in which the world’s newfound focus on work-from-home and remote activities will lead to an increased interest in augmented reality. “The post-COVID economy will be one of resiliency and the ability for businesses to operate across vast distances and connect with their customers in ways that mimic physical interactions, but benefit from the speed and scale of high-speed networks, will be critical,” he wrote. “Spatial computing will very much be part of that coming economic change. Magic Leap’s pioneering work in the field provides us with a rich platform of technology and know-how to help usher in this era of Spatial Transformation.”

Whether AR (and VR) become more popular as a result of remote work and social distancing remains to be seen, but a key factor is lowering the cost of related hardware and software—as well as introducing killer apps that folks actually want to use. That’s just not a Magic Leap issue; AR headsets such as Microsoft’s HoloLens (seen above) face similar hurdles. But if that cost-lowering happens, and such an AR-centric future comes to pass, will Magic Leap still be around to take part in it?

Apple’s COVID-19 Tracker Getting Close to Completion

Google and Apple have been collaborating on APIs that will leverage Bluetooth to trace COVID-19 infections. This “contact tracing” software will reportedly maintain user privacy while allowing governments and health agencies to see when someone infected with COVID-19 comes into contact with others. However, the date for the APIs’ actual launch has seemed unclear; an official statement from Apple suggested “May.”

Now, though, 9to5Mac is reporting that v1.0 of the API will roll out April 28. Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly gave that timetable to European Commissioner Thierry Breton. 

Once the APIs roll out—which, in Apple’s words, will “enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities”—there’s a phase two: A “broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform” that’s built into iOS and Android

“This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities,” Apple added. “Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders.”

If you’re a software developer interested in public health, there’s a good chance that you’ll have the opportunity to play around with the API and related apps. The big question now is whether Apple and Google will truly achieve their sought-after balance of privacy and security.

Elon Musk Zoom Bomb

You’ve heard of Zoom bombing, that obnoxious practice where someone crashes unexpectedly into a stranger’s video call. It’s become a bit of a phenomenon since people began relying on Zoom for video conferencing. Now, artificial intelligence (A.I.) is taking the Zoom bomb to the proverbial next level.

As reported by TNW, developer Ali Aliev has figured out a way to create Deepfakes (A.I.-powered, synthetic virtual personalities) in real time—and you can use them to barge into some random folks’ video call. You can check out the underlying code for his app, called Avatarify, on GitHub, then take a look at the results: “Elon Musk” interrupting two strangers:

In other words, the next time a celebrity crashes your Zoom get-together, don’t freak out.

Have a great (socially distanced) weekend, everyone!