Week In Geek Podcast: A scary game bot, snooping via smartphone, and Google’s Seattle startup deal

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A project developed by University of Washington researchers can remotely transform a smart device into an active sonar system. Above: the system picks up the motion of an arm waving. (University of Washington Photo / Dennis Wise)

On this episode of the Week in Geek Podcast, we start with two fascinating tech advances with not-so-great implications for humanity.

First, researchers from the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science in Seattle reported this week that they were able to hack smart devices and use them as makeshift sonar systems to track people’s movements, even through walls.

The research is designed to raise awareness of a new way to use smart devices for nefarious purposes, but the preventative measures don’t sound very practical. Sound-proofing, emitting a jamming signal, or disabling a device’s speaker and microphone would do the trick, according to the UW team, but they acknowledge those aren’t very realistic solutions.

Meanwhile, a bot developed by non-profit artificial intelligence research organization Open AI is making advances of its own, teaching itself to become an expert in the video game Dota 2. The Open AI bot, which has learned Dota 2 by playing multiple lifetimes’ worth of games, faced off last week against one of the top global players at The International, the annual Dota 2 tournament in Seattle.

The bot resoundingly beat the top human player, opening up plenty of debate on the place of AI and how it is controlled and safeguarded. What happens if a bot is given control of a real-world weapons system?

Another big story this week had more positive implications: GeekWire broke the news that Google has bought Seattle-based health tech startup Senosis. The startup was founded by computer science pioneer and University of Washington researcher Shwetak Patel and builds smartphone apps that can screen people for diseases much like expensive medical equipment can.

Patel and Senosis were featured on a recent episode of our Health Tech Podcast. Google isn’t saying how it will use the company’s tech, but the acquisition is a fascinating development, and a sign that the company is on to something groundbreaking.

And finally, we talk Amazon. The company has started on all sorts of new offering in the past few months, sending the share prices of companies tumbling at just the whiff of competition. We take a look at some of the industries affected and debate whether the company has the kind of sway that people seem to imagine it does.

On the Random Channel this week: a killer commute; the impact of high drug prices; a slick new email service called Superhuman from the makers of Todd’s favorite email plugin Rapportive; and Seattle sees bikes, bikes and more bikes.

Listen above, download the MP3, and don’t forget to subscribe and rate the podcast in Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you listen. Thanks for listening!

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