The Second Coming of the Robot Pet

Mita Yun didn’t get into robotics to save the world. The lunar rovers she built as a student at Carnegie Mellon, and the software she developed as an engineer for Google—that stuff was just practice. The things Yun really wanted to make were friends. Yun had hungered for companionship since she was a little girl in China. She’d begged her parents for a pet, but no dice. These were the days of China’s one-child policy, so no sibling either. Instead, Yun’s parents filled her room with a menagerie of stuffed animals, which she liked to imagine springing to life, their little paws dancing on her bedspread, their little bodies stuffed with possibilities. In 2017, Yun quit her job at Google …

Small Sounds, Big Money: The Commercialization of ASMR

It was time to prepare my body for a peaceful, relaxing sleep. So said the voice, in a lilting British accent that barely registered above a whisper. “Notice how soft your pillow feels against your head,” the voice cooed, from my iPhone, in a way that reminded me of having my hair stroked. “You are ready to relax. Nothing is urgent. Everything can wait.” The voice came from Mindwell, a new meditation app. For $10 a month, it offers these and other hypnotic monologues, designed to promote peace in both sleep and wakefulness. The app joins a suite of others that reimagine meditation in the digital age: Calm offers relaxation techniques and mindfulness on demand; Headspace, with its guided breathing …

What Is Ray Tracing? The Latest Gaming Buzzword Explained

Do you like games? Do you like jargon? Well, then you’ll love ambient occlusion, morphological anti-aliasing, adaptive vertical synchronization, and real-time ray tracing. All of the above were at one time the latest obtuse term for some complicated technology that’s been hyped as the next leap in gaming graphics. Except now, the last one might actually be truly revolutionary. Ray tracing achieved buzzword status at this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. Game announcements made by Microsoft, Nvidia, and AMD at the big gaming show were peppered with promises that their upcoming releases will bring this miraculous technology into our homes. “I think it’s paradigm shifting,” says AJ Christensen, a visualization programmer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. “There’s a lot …