Industry News [January 2021]

This is the regular post where I share updates about things happening in gaming, machine learning, audio, or frankly anything that catches my eye and seems relevant to share or discuss here. Let’s hop right in!

Microsoft filed a patent outlining a process for using machine learning models to “resurrect” individuals who have died. The basic idea is straightforward – use all the data of how people behave online to build rich models of them that allow us to come ever closer to simulating the real person. The linked article discusses the potential implications of this tech, but I doubt this patent actually corresponds to real technology we’re anywhere close to. For all that things like targeted ads have improved, the reality is that tech companies still understand very little about people individually, as compared to just looking at their statistical demographic.

PUBG follows a growing trend by adding a reputation system to their matchmaking. Each player starts out roughly neutral, and then good/bad behavior pulls them towards either extreme. Any system like this will have two primary challenges – accuracy of judgements, and how many games a player must participate in before it arrives at the correct judgement. This relatively simple setup is actually fairly robust for the former, but there’s a lot of room for future sophistication to improve the speed of the assessment.

Clubhouse, the social voice app which previously gained notoriety for some…unsavory…discussions happening on its platform, has raised a new round of funding. There are a variety of audio-centric apps currently contending to become the new social experience, a possibility I continue to find intriguing but am personally bearish on. Much as I’m not a fan of the short attention spans we’ve developed in our culture, the fact is that text matches that much better than audio does. We can scroll more quickly through text, process multiple things at once, and in many cases, text feels safer and more anonymous. I hope that these audio-focused tools do lead to improved discourse, but I’m not sure that would also have the virality to truly compete at the scale of a Twitter.

Twitter introduced Birdwatch, a crowdsourced attempt to detect and combat misinformation. I’m much more a fan of leveraging communities than I am of Twitter trying to decide what qualifies as true on their own, though I’m also well aware there are a lot of ways for these sorts of programs to open themselves up to trolls or simply closed loops of misinformation. Will be worth keeping an eye on, though.

And finally, Activision Blizzard made the news for pushing back against a rule that they’d have to interview one ‘diverse’ candidate at minimum for every open role in the company. I definitely think such a rule makes sense at the executive level – which Activision Blizzard has been clear they’ll stick with – but I confess I’m uncertain whether it really makes sense to extend this to the whole org. Without a culture that respects diversity, policies like this are unlikely to cause real change. For instance, I’m skeptical that, if a team didn’t want to hire a diverse candidate, this would actually change anything – they could always interview someone and just plan to turn them down, wasting everyone’s time. There are also well-intentioned examples – if a team isn’t actively planning to hire a new designer, but they run into a non-diverse but genuinely amazing candidate who walks in off the street, can they still make a hire of opportunity? Or do they have to spin up a whole process, slow down an extremely promising candidate, and, again, likely end up wasting the time of a minority candidate in a faux-interview, all to match the letter of the law? To be clear, I’m absolutely in favor of Activision Blizzard, and any large organization, imposing cultural norms and formal policies to ensure their teams appreciate the importance of diversity and operate in an inclusive way; I’m just not sure such a rigid policy is the best way to achieve that.

That’s all for this week! As always, any thoughts or feedback are welcome. Stay safe, healthy, and sane, all!

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