This scary AI breakthrough means you can run but not hide – how AI can guess your location from a single image

There’s no question that artificial intelligence (AI) is in the process of upending society, with ChatGPT and its rivals already changing the way we live our lives. But a new AI project has just emerged that can pinpoint the location of where almost any photo was taken – and it has the potential to become a privacy nightmare.

The project, dubbed Predicting Image Geolocations (or PIGEON for short) was created by three students at Stanford University and was designed to help find where images from Google Street View were taken. But when fed personal photos it had never seen before, it was even able to accurately find their locations, usually with a high degree of accuracy.

Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union says that has serious privacy implications, including government surveillance, corporate tracking and stalking, according to NPR. For instance, a government could use PIGEON to find dissidents or see whether you have visited places it disapproves of. Or a stalker could employ it to work out where a potential victim lives. In the wrong hands, this kind of tech could wreak havoc.

Motivated by those concerns, the student creators have decided against releasing the tech to the wider world. But as Stanley points out, that might not be the end of the matter: “The fact that this was done as a student project makes you wonder what could be done by, for example, Google.”

A double-edged sword

Google Maps

(Image credit: Google)

Before we start getting the pitchforks ready, it’s worth remembering that this technology might also have a range of positive uses, if deployed responsibly. For instance, it could be used to identify places in need of roadworks or other maintenance. Or it could help you plan a holiday: where in the world could you go to see landscapes like those in your photos? There are other uses, too, from education to monitoring biodiversity.

Like many recent advances in AI, it’s a double-edged sword. Generative AI can be used to help a programmer debug code to great effect, but could also be used by a hacker to refine their malware. It could help you drum up ideas for a novel, but might assist someone who wants to cheat on their college coursework.

But anything that helps identify a person’s location in this way could be extremely problematic in terms of personal privacy – and have big ramifications for social media. As Stanley argued, it’s long been possible to remove geolocation data from photos before you upload them. Now, that might not matter anymore.

What’s clear is that some sort of regulation is desperately needed to prevent wider abuses, while the companies making AI tech must work to prevent damage caused by their products. Until that happens, it’s likely we’ll continue to see concerns raised over AI and its abilities.

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Microsoft drops Windows Maps, TV and Movies apps from new Windows 11 installs – here’s what it means for users

Microsoft seems to have scrubbed Windows Maps and Movies & TV apps from fresh installations of Windows 11, starting with Windows 11 Build 25987, which was released to Windows Insiders, a Microsoft’s official community for Windows enthusiasts and industry professionals to try out previews of new versions of Windows and features.

To be clear, if you’re using a previous version of Windows 11, you won’t be affected by this even if you upgrade to Windows 11 Build 25897. Your Windows Maps and Movies & TV apps will continue to be on your device. Also, Microsoft reportedly hasn’t given any indication that these apps are being killed off, as you can still get them from the Microsoft Store, and they will continue to be updated. 

What it does mean is that if you perform a clean install of Windows 11 going forward from today, those two apps will not be pre-installed. Microsoft has confirmed all of the above in a Windows Insider Blog post, but has not elaborated on why it’s made this decision. NeoWin points out that you can delete them if you like, and doing so frees up only a few megabytes of disk memory. It’s hard to say at this point what the fate of these two apps will be, considering that they’re rarely updated and that Microsoft recently removed offline support for Windows Maps. 

Windows Movies and TV

(Image credit: Microsoft)

What's the impact of this move?

Most Windows users may not even be aware of these apps, so they will probably not be sorely missed by those that do a clean installation of Windows 11 from now on. 

It does, however, look like Microsoft is taking steps to optimize and streamline the Windows 11 operating system in general. In the most recent major version update, Windows 11 23H2, we saw the Chat removed and its functionality be absorbed into the free version of Microsoft Teams. We also saw the removal of the old Mail app. 

These are more minor changes, in my opinion, but attention to detail like this can pay off as Windows has sometimes had the reputation of being a rather cluttered and bloated operating system, especially compared to macOS and ChromeOS. I think this bodes well for the type of operating system Microsoft is trying to turn Windows 11 into, especially with the new intense focus on AI with Windows Copilot and hybrid computing

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Android’s Nearby Share boost means it’s almost a match for Apple’s AirDrop

Nearby Share on Android has received a major upgrade, giving you the ability to send entire folders to other devices.

This feature was recently discovered by industry insider and tech journalist Mishaal Rahman who shared his findings on X (or Twitter, if you prefer the older, less obtuse name). Rahman states you’re able to transfer folders from one Android phone to another as well as to Chromebooks and Windows PCs via the Files by Google app. He says that all you have to do is long-press any folder within Google Files and then select the Nearby Share icon on-screen. From there, you will see all of the connected devices which can accept the transfer. Pretty simple stuff.

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There are some limitations to be aware of. Tom’s Guide states in their report, “Nearby Share has a 1,000-file limit”, so folders can’t be too big. Another piece from Android Police reveals the upgrade is exclusive to Google Files as it doesn’t seem to work properly with Samsung’s own file manager. Files will still be shared on Samsung's app, but it won’t retain the folder structure, according to Rahman.

What’s interesting is there’s a good chance you already have this feature if your device has Google Files. Rahman says that Nail Sadykov, another notable industry insider, claims “the earliest he saw someone mention it was back in May” of this year. It’s just that no one knew about it until very recently. Apparently, Google didn’t give anyone the heads-up.

So, if you have Google Files on your phone and haven’t updated it in a while, we recommend downloading the patch to get the boosted Nearby Share.

Closing the gap

Admittedly, it’s a small update, but an important one as it allows Nearby Share to close the gap a bit between it and Apple’s AirDrop. Android users will save a lot of time since they won’t be forced to transfer files one by one. It’s a function iPhone owners have enjoyed for many years now. It’s hard to say exactly when AirDrop first gained the ability to send folders to Macs. The oldest instance we could find was one of our How-to guides from 2015.

However, Nearby Share still has a long way to go before it can be considered a proper rival to AirDrop. For iOS 17, Apple plans on further enhancing its wireless file transfer tool by introducing new features like Contact Posters for friends plus improved security for unsolicited images.

If you’re looking for other management options besides Google Files, be sure to check out TechRadar’s list of the best file transfer software for 2023

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The Apple Vision Pro means Samsung’s own XR headset has been delayed

The arrival of the Apple Vision Pro has apparently forced a delay in the launch of Samsung's own XR (Extended Reality) headset: the Samsung device is now expected to launch in mid-2024 or later, after having originally been slated for February 2024.

This comes from SBS Biz (via SamMobile), and the story seems to be that seeing the Vision Pro forced Samsung executives to rethink their own device. An upgrade to the display sharpness is one of the possible reasons given for the delay.

Clearly Samsung doesn't want to come out of the gate with a headset that's notably inferior to Apple's own product, even if it's also cheaper. The Vision Pro costs $ 3,499 (about £2,725 / AUS$ 5,230), and is expected to only be available in limited numbers for a while.

Details on exactly what the Samsung XR headset is going to offer are still thin on the ground at this stage, though it is believed to be running Google's Android software, and powered by a Qualcomm chipset of some description.

Choose your reality

All these different versions of reality can take some time to get used to. The XR (or Extended Reality) that Samsung prefers is actually referring to all the different types of related technology that we've seen to date.

Augmented reality (AR) is where digital objects are overlaid on top of the real world. Then there's virtual reality (VR), which refers to completely self-contained digital environments. Mixed reality (MR) generally means enhanced AR, where digital objects are aware of and interact with the physical world around them.

The Vision Pro is usually referred to as a mixed reality device, whereas the Meta Quest 3 is mostly concerned with virtual reality. Extended reality, or XR, is generally taken to mean a combination of AR, VR, and MR – though there's still a lot of confusion, as tech companies tend to all use these terms in different ways.

We'll have to wait and see what Samsung has been building and what it's capable of, but the extra time in development should mean a better device – and a more worthy competitor to the Vision Pro when it finally does see the light of day.

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Holopresence means never having to say, ‘Sorry, I can’t be there’

In Holopresence land you can be two places at once. One is sitting on a director’s chair in front of a green screen, sweating under a half dozen stage lights. The other is half a world away on a semi-translucent screen, addressing an audience who almost believes you’re sitting right there with them.

I walked across midtown Manhattan in the soaking rain to see ARHT Media’s Holopresence experience in person earlier this week. (And with water dripping off my hat and coat, I found myself wishing I’d done this meeting as a hologram.)

To be clear, what ARHT provides is not, technically, a hologram. It’s a canny projection system that employs mostly off-the-shelf technology, a proprietary screen, and special software to make people believe someone is sitting in front of you, as opposed to – in my case – Toronto.

He was never really there

ARHT Media is a Toronto, Canada, telepresence company that just opened its first Holopresence studio in a WeWork building in midtown Manhattan. They invited me for a look.

As I walked into the WeWork space, basically a vast, mostly unfurnished office floor, I was greeted by ARHT Media SVP Terry Davis and company CEO Larry O’Reilly, who was standing off to the side looking at his phone. O’Reilly looked a little odd, as though he was standing before a bright light that I couldn’t see. Suddenly he abruptly dematerialized and was gone — my first experience with this Holopresence technology.

I wanted to try this for myself, but before anyone could transform me into a Holopresence, Davis walked me through the technology's fundamentals.

“We’re a projection system,” Davis told me. Gesturing toward the cube-like set up in a semi-darkened space on the far side of a cavernous WeWork room, where O’Reilly had “stood” just moments ago, Davis explained that the entire system is portable and “breaks down into a couple of duffle bags. We go anywhere in the world.”

The cube that “virtual you” beam in and out from consists of poles, black curtains on the back and sides, and a special screen stretched across the front. Unlike a standard movie screen, this one is a nylon-like mesh with a high-gain reflective coating. “It’s transparent and reflective at the same time,” explained Davis.

Aside from ARHT’s matrixed software (handling multi-channel communication for various holopresences in real-time), the screen is the company’s only other piece of proprietary technology. Still, it is effective.

Behind the screen, I note a few props, including a pair of plants and some floor lighting. These and the distance to the back curtain create the illusion of a depth of field behind a Holopresence. “You have to have a certain degree of depth of field in order for your brain and eyes to perceive that parallax,” said Davis.

A world of Holograms

AHRT is by no means the only company creating virtual people for events, concerts, panels, exhibits, and families. There’s Epic HoloPortl, for example. It has white, booth-like boxes, called PORTLs, in which people appear to materialize. The effect is arresting. Davis, while not wanting to criticize Epic HoloPortls, called them “white coffins with no depth of field.”

He also noted that his product can accommodate multiple people from multiple locations on one screen, while PORTL fits one in a box.

Plus there’s the portability factor. A Holopresence system, which would include the screen, curtain, poles, an off-the-shelf projector (they were using a Panasonic DLP for my demonstration), and microphones and speakers, can fit in a large bag. It’s not clear how portable the PORTL boxes are.

Still, on the other side of a Holopresence presentation is someone sitting in front of a green, black, or white screen. They’re mic-ed-up, facing a camera, and, in my case, hunkered down under substantial lighting. Meaning that for a live Holopresence event, there are always two sides to the technology equation.

Davis told me that the technology they use to create these hologram-like presences is not much different than what we’ve seen with virtual Michael Jackson in Concert or Tupac Shakur at Coachella. In those instances, the projection was from the ground up to a reflective surface that bounces it off a giant screen. Holopresence’s projector is outside the curtained area, facing the screen.

Lance Ulanoff and ARHT CEO Larry O'Reilly

Lance Ulanoff and ARHT CEO Larry O’Reilly (beaming in) (Image credit: Future)

Most of ARHT Media’s clients are businesses, enterprises, and billionaires (there was an Antarctic yacht cruise where people like Malcolm Gladwell beamed in to talk to a select audience). Davis described multiple panels where they beamed people in from around the world. Back at each of their studios, panelists are surrounded by screens that stand in place of other panelists. If someone is seated to the left of you, that’s where the screen will be. They even try to accommodate height differences. If the speaker on the left is much short than you or, say, on a different level on the stage, they adjust the screen height accordingly. A feed of the audience is usually placed in front of the speaker. What they see is holo-panelists looking back and forth at other holo-panelists.

To accommodate large panels or events with large audiences, ARHT offers a range of screen sizes that can be as small as 5 feet and as large as, well, a stage.

ARHT does have some consumer impact. During COVID travel restrictions, the company helped a bridesmaid in England virtually attend a wedding in America. In New Jersey’s Hall of Fame, the company has built a kiosk where visitors can “speak” to life-sized video versions of Bon Jovi and Little Steven.

Still, ARHT is not priced for your average consumer. A single-person Holopresence can run you $ 15,000. For more people on the screen, it could cost as much as $ 30,000.

Beaming in

Lance Ulanoff in ARHT studio becoming a Holopresence

Lance Ulanoff in ARHT studio becoming a Holopresence (Image credit: Future)

After a power outage at the Toronto headquarters (no amount of tech magic can overcome a lack of electricity), we finally got ARHT’s CEO back for a quick virtual chat. The roughly 6ft tall O’Reilly looked solid. As we talked and he reiterated many of the points Davis and I covered, I found myself focusing on the image quality. Dead-on, it was perfect. From O’Reilly’s white hair down to his shoes, he appeared to be standing before me (on a slightly raised stage). I shifted to the left and right and found the effect holding up pretty well. Davis claims the projection doesn’t flatten out until you hit between 120 -to-140-degree off-axis. I’d argue the viewport is a bit narrower.

As we conversed, though, I experience another key part of ARHT’s Holopresence secret sauce: latency. The conversation between the two of us was free-flowing. Even when we did a counting test (we counted to ten with each of us alternating numbers), there was, perhaps, a sub-second delay.

To achieve this effect, ARHT uses low packet bursting transmission to create a smooth, conversational experience between people in Hong Kong and Australia or a reporter in New York City and a CEO in Toronto.

Lance Ulanoff materializes

(Image credit: Future)

One thing I noted throughout the demo were the references to Star Trek transporter technology. There was even a screen in the space showing a loop from the original Star Trek series where the team beams down to an alien planet. When you start a Holopresence experience, people “beam in” with a very Star Trek-like graphic flourish and sound effect. I asked O’Reilly if he's a Star Trek fan and what he thought about the connection. He didn’t answer directly and instead pointed out how the sound and graphics are completely customizable.

Finally, it was my turn. I sat in the green screen space and tried to look like I wasn’t about to experience a lifetime dream of mine. My beam-in moment was, initially, a little underwhelming. I couldn’t see myself; the Holopresence space was across the room. 

When it was over, I walked over, and Davis replayed my big moment. Seeing myself teleport into the room like a bald Captain Kirk was everything I hoped it would be.

Beam me up, Scotty.

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Holopresence means never having to say, ‘Sorry, I can’t be there’

In Holopresence land you can be two places at once. One is sitting on a director’s chair in front of a green screen, sweating under a half dozen stage lights. The other is half a world away on a semi-translucent screen, addressing an audience who almost believes you’re sitting right there with them.

I walked across midtown Manhattan in the soaking rain to see ARHT Media’s Holopresence experience in person earlier this week. (And with water dripping off my hat and coat, I found myself wishing I’d done this meeting as a hologram.)

To be clear, what ARHT provides is not, technically, a hologram. It’s a canny projection system that employs mostly off-the-shelf technology, a proprietary screen, and special software to make people believe someone is sitting in front of you, as opposed to – in my case – Toronto.

He was never really there

ARHT Media is a Toronto, Canada, telepresence company that just opened its first Holopresence studio in a WeWork building in midtown Manhattan. They invited me for a look.

As I walked into the WeWork space, basically a vast, mostly unfurnished office floor, I was greeted by ARHT Media SVP Terry Davis and company CEO Larry O’Reilly, who was standing off to the side looking at his phone. O’Reilly looked a little odd, as though he was standing before a bright light that I couldn’t see. Suddenly he abruptly dematerialized and was gone — my first experience with this Holopresence technology.

I wanted to try this for myself, but before anyone could transform me into a Holopresence, Davis walked me through the technology's fundamentals.

“We’re a projection system,” Davis told me. Gesturing toward the cube-like set up in a semi-darkened space on the far side of a cavernous WeWork room, where O’Reilly had “stood” just moments ago, Davis explained that the entire system is portable and “breaks down into a couple of duffle bags. We go anywhere in the world.”

The cube that “virtual you” beam in and out from consists of poles, black curtains on the back and sides, and a special screen stretched across the front. Unlike a standard movie screen, this one is a nylon-like mesh with a high-gain reflective coating. “It’s transparent and reflective at the same time,” explained Davis.

Aside from ARHT’s matrixed software (handling multi-channel communication for various holopresences in real-time), the screen is the company’s only other piece of proprietary technology. Still, it is effective.

Behind the screen, I note a few props, including a pair of plants and some floor lighting. These and the distance to the back curtain create the illusion of a depth of field behind a Holopresence. “You have to have a certain degree of depth of field in order for your brain and eyes to perceive that parallax,” said Davis.

A world of Holograms

AHRT is by no means the only company creating virtual people for events, concerts, panels, exhibits, and families. There’s Epic HoloPortl, for example. It has white, booth-like boxes, called PORTLs, in which people appear to materialize. The effect is arresting. Davis, while not wanting to criticize Epic HoloPortls, called them “white coffins with no depth of field.”

He also noted that his product can accommodate multiple people from multiple locations on one screen, while PORTL fits one in a box.

Plus there’s the portability factor. A Holopresence system, which would include the screen, curtain, poles, an off-the-shelf projector (they were using a Panasonic DLP for my demonstration), and microphones and speakers, can fit in a large bag. It’s not clear how portable the PORTL boxes are.

Still, on the other side of a Holopresence presentation is someone sitting in front of a green, black, or white screen. They’re mic-ed-up, facing a camera, and, in my case, hunkered down under substantial lighting. Meaning that for a live Holopresence event, there are always two sides to the technology equation.

Davis told me that the technology they use to create these hologram-like presences is not much different than what we’ve seen with virtual Michael Jackson in Concert or Tupac Shakur at Coachella. In those instances, the projection was from the ground up to a reflective surface that bounces it off a giant screen. Holopresence’s projector is outside the curtained area, facing the screen.

Lance Ulanoff and ARHT CEO Larry O'Reilly

Lance Ulanoff and ARHT CEO Larry O’Reilly (beaming in) (Image credit: Future)

Most of ARHT Media’s clients are businesses, enterprises, and billionaires (there was an Antarctic yacht cruise where people like Malcolm Gladwell beamed in to talk to a select audience). Davis described multiple panels where they beamed people in from around the world. Back at each of their studios, panelists are surrounded by screens that stand in place of other panelists. If someone is seated to the left of you, that’s where the screen will be. They even try to accommodate height differences. If the speaker on the left is much short than you or, say, on a different level on the stage, they adjust the screen height accordingly. A feed of the audience is usually placed in front of the speaker. What they see is holo-panelists looking back and forth at other holo-panelists.

To accommodate large panels or events with large audiences, ARHT offers a range of screen sizes that can be as small as 5 feet and as large as, well, a stage.

ARHT does have some consumer impact. During COVID travel restrictions, the company helped a bridesmaid in England virtually attend a wedding in America. In New Jersey’s Hall of Fame, the company has built a kiosk where visitors can “speak” to life-sized video versions of Bon Jovi and Little Steven.

Still, ARHT is not priced for your average consumer. A single-person Holopresence can run you $ 15,000. For more people on the screen, it could cost as much as $ 30,000.

Beaming in

Lance Ulanoff in ARHT studio becoming a Holopresence

Lance Ulanoff in ARHT studio becoming a Holopresence (Image credit: Future)

After a power outage at the Toronto headquarters (no amount of tech magic can overcome a lack of electricity), we finally got ARHT’s CEO back for a quick virtual chat. The roughly 6ft tall O’Reilly looked solid. As we talked and he reiterated many of the points Davis and I covered, I found myself focusing on the image quality. Dead-on, it was perfect. From O’Reilly’s white hair down to his shoes, he appeared to be standing before me (on a slightly raised stage). I shifted to the left and right and found the effect holding up pretty well. Davis claims the projection doesn’t flatten out until you hit between 120 -to-140-degree off-axis. I’d argue the viewport is a bit narrower.

As we conversed, though, I experience another key part of ARHT’s Holopresence secret sauce: latency. The conversation between the two of us was free-flowing. Even when we did a counting test (we counted to ten with each of us alternating numbers), there was, perhaps, a sub-second delay.

To achieve this effect, ARHT uses low packet bursting transmission to create a smooth, conversational experience between people in Hong Kong and Australia or a reporter in New York City and a CEO in Toronto.

Lance Ulanoff materializes

(Image credit: Future)

One thing I noted throughout the demo were the references to Star Trek transporter technology. There was even a screen in the space showing a loop from the original Star Trek series where the team beams down to an alien planet. When you start a Holopresence experience, people “beam in” with a very Star Trek-like graphic flourish and sound effect. I asked O’Reilly if he's a Star Trek fan and what he thought about the connection. He didn’t answer directly and instead pointed out how the sound and graphics are completely customizable.

Finally, it was my turn. I sat in the green screen space and tried to look like I wasn’t about to experience a lifetime dream of mine. My beam-in moment was, initially, a little underwhelming. I couldn’t see myself; the Holopresence space was across the room. 

When it was over, I walked over, and Davis replayed my big moment. Seeing myself teleport into the room like a bald Captain Kirk was everything I hoped it would be.

Beam me up, Scotty.

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