Weekend Roundup: Apple Rolls Out Big Sur, Google Needs Some A.I. Help

It’s the weekend! Before we shut down our browsers, let’s take a moment to revisit some of the week’s big stories, including Apple rolling out a new OS and Google asking for a bit of help from the crowd.

Apple Rolls Out Big Sur

With all of the buzz surrounding Apple’s (AAPL) unveiling of new Macs equipped with the M1 chip (Apple’s first desktop/laptop processors built in-house, as opposed to relying on Intel (INTC), you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Apple has a new version of macOS rolling out this weekend. 

That new version, dubbed “Big Sur” (in keeping with Apple’s new tradition of naming OS versions after scenic locations in California), features a number of design upgrades that bring macOS aesthetically in line with iOS. For example, macOS features such as Control Center and Notification Center now have a hefty dose of iOS DNA, including some widgets that should be instantly familiar to anyone who uses an iPhone or iPad.

The built-in Safari browser is also much faster, with a customizable start page and built-in translation (the latter is especially useful for those who spend too much time toggling between Safari and Chrome to use the latter’s translation options). As with an increasing number of Apple products, there’s also a focus on privacy—specifically, a “snapshot” of website trackers detected by Safari as the user browses around.

When combined with improvements to apps such as Maps, it’s clear that this is a fairly major upgrade. Big Sur is dropping at an auspicious moment for Apple: Will consumers (and technologists) embrace Macs with the new Apple silicon? The answer to that question will obviously help determine the tech giant’s health for the foreseeable future. 

Google Needs Some A.I. Help From… You

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning are difficult, and sometimes messy, disciplines. Even the most brilliant A.I. researchers can’t figure out everything themselves, and sometimes they need a little help when it comes to refining their algorithms and models.

That’s no doubt the impetus behind Google’s (GOOG) new feature, which allows Android users to tell Google about the contents of their photos—such as whether an image was snapped at a holiday event. Google is claiming that, by participating, users will help make Google’s photo-related algorithms smarter, which will translate over the long term into better features. For Google itself, there’s also a more selfish motive: Via crowdsourcing, it can make its A.I. smarter, faster.

Amazon Figures Out How to Make Trolls Fight

If you’re a gamer, you’ve no doubt encountered your share of trolls and generally terrible human beings during online matches. In a new patent, Amazon (AMZN) suggests it’s discovered a technological solution to this pervasive, ultra-annoying issue. 

According to Protocol and other sources, Amazon’s patent (titled “Behavior-Aware Player Selection for Multiplayer Electronic Games”) suggests ways to track toxic gamers’ behavior, and then pair them in online matches with other toxic gamers. In theory, that would leave other gamers to enjoy blasting aliens apart in peace. 

Even if you’re not into game-playing or game-building, the patent is well worth a skim, as it shows off how some very smart researchers are thinking about A.I., pattern selection, and how users navigate complex systems. That’s potentially useful to all kinds of app-builders and website designers, not just game makers.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Stay safe!