On a semi-weekly basis, we compile a collection of the best long-form stories on tech, tech culture and more. We’ve collected a list of the best selections from 2020 for you to revisit — or enjoy for the first time — as we finish up one dumpster fire of a year.
Joon Lee, ESPN
One of the biggest sports stories of the year broke in mid-January. Major League Baseball determined the Houston Astros used various methods, including video feeds, to steal signs from the opposition during the team's 2017 championship season -- including the World Series. MLB found that it continued to do so during the 2018 season, too. ESPN explained how internet detectives examined footage for clues over the last several months, and how that work helped blow the case wide open.
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight
As the US is dragged kicking and screaming into modernizing its election infrastructure, a massive app glitch during the Iowa Caucuses caused delays in reporting results. That week-long wait impacted the entire Democratic presidential race, killing any would-be momentum for the winner.
Jason Koebler, Emanuel Maiberg, and Joseph Cox; Motherboard
Clearview might’ve gotten most of the backlash as far as AI-powered facial recognition goes in 2020, but another outfit called Banjo was also on the prowl. Motherboard broke a story in March about how the artificial intelligence firm had an agreement with Utah that gave it real-time access to traffic cameras, CCTV/public safety cameras, 911 systems and other data. Banjo says it can combine all of that with info from social media, apps and satellites to "detect anomalies." Basically, the company claims it can alert law enforcement to a crime while it's happening.
Cyrus Farivar and Jo Ling Kent, NBC News
As many of us began working and attending school from home this spring, Zoom became a popular vehicle for video meetings and classroom sessions. During March and April, the company attracted increasing scrutiny over its security practices from both the public and government officials. NBC News took a look at the company’s predicament in a chat with CEO Eric Yuan.
Kai-Fu Lee, Wired
The coronavirus pandemic caused us to rethink major aspects of everyday life around the world, but it may also expedite the use of artificial intelligence in health care. Sinovation Ventures CEO Kai-Fu Lee explains how the revolution has already begun, and how things like diagnosis, drug discovery and even robot delivery will progress due to current global health conditions.
Don Clark and Jack Nicas, The New York Times
One of the big announcements at the WWDC virtual keynote in June was Apple’s long-rumored breakup with Intel. The partnership has equipped Macs for years with processors, but Apple was finally ready to debut its own chips, taking control of more aspects of its supply chain. The New York Times had a primer on how we got here and why the move was big news.
Chaim Gartenberg, The Verge
This piece from The Verge was published before AT&T CEO John Stankey announced Christopher Nolan’s upcoming blockbuster Tenet wouldn’t skip theaters for an on-demand premiere, but the argument still holds true. The simple fact is going to a movie theater is extremely dangerous amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and there’s no sign that we’ll be able to congregate in front of the big screen any time soon. Plus, there’s real potential for Nolan to flip the script on VOD movie debuts. “If Nolan wants to build a legacy, releasing the first true at-home blockbuster could be a substantial credit to that legacy,” Gartenberg writes. As of December 15th, the film is available to watch at home — if you’re willing to pay for it.
George Cave, designbycave.co.uk
Whether it’s a spaceship, a cash register or a car instrument cluster, Lego interface panels play a relatively small role in the grand scheme of most builds. They offer finer details for a vehicle’s interior, for example, but typically they’re just one or two blocks amongst a set of hundreds or thousands or pieces. UK designer George Cave took a detailed look at the aesthetic of these bricks and offers some thoughts on what they can teach us about effective UX layouts and interface organization.
Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge
In September, The Verge took us behind the wheel of the first EV that runs Android Automotive: Google’s tech that controls things like air conditioning, navigation, the radio and more. Fancy smarts aside, it turns out the Polestar 2 offers a great driving experience as well.
Raymond Wong, Input
You likely read our review, but Input caught up with Microsoft’s chief product officer to discuss the company’s new folding device. Panay discussed the Android-powered Surface Duo along with that Courier concept that didn’t make the cut and some proclamations for the company’s future beyond Windows.
Wesley Yin-Poole, Eurogamer
Nightdive Studios announced earlier this year that it planned to remaster the 1997 Blade Runner game for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in 2020. That’s not going to happen, and Eurogamer explains the challenges of the remake in an interview with Nightdive CEO Stephen Kick.
Kashmir Hill and Jeremy White, The New York Times
Fake personas on the internet are nothing new, but completely fake people that appear to be alarmingly real in photographs or animations are becoming increasingly common. To better understand how easy this process can be, The New York Times created an AI system that generates portraits of people who don’t exist using publicly available GAN (generative adversarial network) software from Nvidia. And with the simple adjustment of a slider, you can tweak race, gender, age, mood and more as you read about it.
Lawrence Ulrich, Autoblog
The marketing hype was at an all-time high for Ford’s “Mustang” EV, but thankfully, the American automaker has met expectations. Autoblog took the Mustang Mach-E for a spin and offered some impressions as to how it stacks up against the rest of the electrified pack. “For the first time, we have a genuine, no-excuses competitor to Tesla’s benchmark EVs,” Ulrich explained.