Top software innovations of 2017 | Popular Science
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Ted Cavanaugh

The year's most exciting innovations in software

A digital assistant that knows you, an AI that'll help you land a date—what a wonderful world!

This article is a segment of 2017's Best of What's New list. For the complete tabulation of the year's most transformative products and discoveries, head right this way.


Google Assistant

Google Assistant

A bot that knows your voice.

Google

In April, the Google Assistant became the first virtual persona with the ability to differentiate people—as many as six—based on their voices. After training it (via a Google Home device) to learn what makes your vocal sounds unique, ask it to read your schedule. You’ll hear only your own appointments, not your partner’s.

Tinder Smart Photos

Tinder smart photos

When AI is the dating coach.

Tinder

Choosing your Tinder profile photo used to be angst-inducing, but now a machine-learning algorithm can do it for you. The system rotates which picture leads, figuring out the popularity of each based on people’s responses. With image recognition, Tinder can even determine how an individual swiper might react to a certain photo, meaning it can custom-select a specific selfie to present to a potential date.

Google's Invisible Recaptcha

Google invisible recaptcha

Unseen security guard.

Google

Proving you’re a human online can be a pain in the bot. Who wants to deal with a string of numbers or letters—or even a checkbox—when you’re just trying to fill out a form? In March, Google cut us all a break with its Invisible Recaptcha service. Working in the background, this gatekeeper uses risk analysis and machine learning while you do nothing. If it gets suspicious, the system might still make you take a captcha test.

JetBlue's face recognition

JetBlue Face recognition

Your smile’s the ticket.

JetBlue

In June, passengers jaunting off to Aruba from Boston with JetBlue could keep their boarding passes and passports tucked away—that’s because the carrier started accepting flyers’ faces as ID. A camera at the gate snaps a photo of each participating traveler, and then a U.S. Customs and Border Protection algorithm matches it against a photo of the traveler’s visage on file, giving each voyager the green light (or not).

Guerilla Games' Horizon Zero Dawn

Guerrilla Games Horizon Zero Dawn

Made for the future, and past.

Guerrilla Games

The developers behind this gorgeous, post-apocalyptic video game designed it to take advantage of the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro’s copious processing power, but also ensured that it still shines on older consoles. On Sony’s latest gaming machine and a 4K monitor, you’ll get high-res visuals and HDR colors, but even on a standard PS4, you’ll still enjoy smoother gameplay and more details as you hunt giant machines. $45.

HEIF Photo MPEG

HEIF Photo MPEG

Knocking JPEG off its throne.

HEIF Photo

Since 1992, JPEG has quietly ruled as the prevailing photo-compression standard. But that might change with the high-efficiency image file format (HEIF), which Apple baked into iPhones running iOS 11 and Macs operating High Sierra. Not only can HEIF store multiple shots and audio in a single file, photographs will take up less space and pack in more colors. With a greater range of hues, skies will appear smoother.

Grand Award Winner: This AI flushes out trolls

Jigsaw Perspective

Jigsaw Perspective.

Ted Cavanaugh

Hate and harassment flourish in online comment sections. To keep these digital forums open, Jigsaw—a ­division of Google’s parent ­company, Alphabet—built Perspective, a ­machine-learning system that scores readers’ written thoughts from 1 to 100, based on how likely they are to be toxic.

You may have noticed that since June, more articles on The New York Times’ website allow people to post their opinions. That’s because the Times—which contributed millions of annotated comments to train the system—employed Perspective to help its human moderators handle the remarks more efficiently. By year’s end, editors hope to have opened up 80 percent of all articles for (non-toxic) discussion.

Best of What's New was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of Popular Science.

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