It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S.A., which means it’s time to slow down for a beat and remember those who sacrificed. It’s also the unofficial beginning of summer and a Monday and a day for family barbecues. So, if you need something to stare at on your phone to avoid talking to your uncle Larry who has strong political opinions and a shocking amount of potato salad stuck in his goatee, you can hang out right here with us. Here’s a rundown of the biggest tech stories you missed last week.
Catch up on the Last Week in Tech podcast
There is no new episode of LWIT this week, which makes this a great time to dig into the backlog. Go back to last week or dig back several months and remember a time before Elon Musk went totally bonkers. You can follow us on SoundCloud, subscribe on iTunes, or add us on Stitcher.
The great Alexa butt dial freak out of 2018
Last week, a Portland woman claimed that her Amazon Echo Dot device started secretly recording her private conversation—without prompting—and then sent a clip of it to one of her husband’s co-workers. While there were plenty of theories online as to how it happened, an Amazon representative told me that it was basically a butt dial. The Echo Dot heard what it thought was a wake word (like Alexa), and then it interpreted pieces of the conversations as commands once it was listening. The whole thing seems very unlikely, but it’s not the first issue Amazon has had with its voice recognition tech—Alexa was randomly laughing earlier this year and it was really freaking people out.
GDPR happened! The inbox onslaught is finally over
The Essential Phone 2 isn’t happening—at least for now
On paper, Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone seemed like a promising and ambitious device. It had an edge-to-edge display with a notch cut out, which has since become the standard. It used a clean version of Android free of the bloat that comes with an LG or Samsung phone. And the magnetic port on the back for easily attaching and swapping accessories was truly impressive. Unfortunately, consumers just weren’t buying the $700 device. Now, the Essential Phone 2, which was originally slated for 2019 release, is officially on hold. The future of the company is uncertain at the moment, but it reportedly still has plans for more products down the road.
Take a Twitter time machine back to 2008
Finally finished GTA4 — but only got like 70% through the game. Time to start over and do all the other stuff?— Ryan (@ryan) May 24, 2008
Using a specific set of search terms, you can look at your Twitter feed as it would have appeared a decade ago. The filter shows you an ordered stream of everything your pals tweeted in 2008. It’s fun, and probably a little awkward.
The NTSB released its initial report about the fatal Uber crash
The National Transportation Safety Board has been investigating the fatal self-driving Uber crash that happened back in March and now it has issued its initial report. It appears Uber’s system saw the pedestrian, but had difficulty classifying her as a person. The car realized emergency braking was necessary, but doesn’t have the capacity to do it on its own, and has no way to alert the driver that they should start braking.
Disney’s Stickman is not quite ready for Cirque Du Soleil
Eventually, Disney World will be rife with robots like a cheerful Westworld. Right now, however, the bots are still learning to perform. Disney Research showed off this stick-style robot that’s built to do backflips from a trapeze. It’s not as impressive as the Boston Dynamics bots that can now go for a casual job, but it’s fun to watch this stick-shaped bot flop onto those mats.
Razer has a new gaming laptop and external GPU enclosure to help you wreck people at Fortnite
The Razer Blade is a top-tier gaming laptop, and now Razer has refreshed the line with some promising updates, including slimmer bezels and eighth generation Core i7 processors. In addition to the new computers, Razer introduced the Core X external GPU, which would otherwise be too wimpy to get optimal in-game performance. The Core X isn’t as powerful as the $500 Core V2, but at $300, it’s a lot cheaper than a full-fledged gaming PC.