TIME The Brief

#TheBrief: The Battle for Control of the Internet

Explaining what 'net neutrality' really means to you — and the future of the Internet

President Obama took to the White House YouTube channel Monday to call for broadband internet providers to be regulated as a utility — a move that signals his support for the concept of “net neutrality“.

What’s net neutrality? It’s the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast or Verizon should treat all content equally. It might not sound like an inspirational cause, but the question of who has rights to control the Internet affects almost everyone.

Cable companies are clamoring for the right to give faster speeds to certain clients, while many content providers are in favor of keeping all data on the Internet on equal footing.

Watch #TheBrief to find out what’s at stake.

TIME Video Games

Assassin’s Creed Unity Review: Not Quite the Revolution We Were Promised

Ubisoft

Ubisoft's recreation of the French Revolution looks and sounds incredible, but the game's design leaves something to be desired

I’m perched on a Notre Dame gargoyle, Batman-like, some 70 meters above a rabble-thronged square. From here I can see the gabled roof of the Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle, the royal church’s spire the next highest object punctuating Paris’s Seine-circled Île de la Cité. Across the river I spy the Louvre, and along the right bank, the Grand Châtelet.

Swiveling 45 degrees, a medieval temple overlooks the 3rd arrondissement. Turning another 45, there’s the Bastille, its broken crenellations like the jags of a giant shattered tooth. The cathedral’s shadow darkens the square below me, where hundreds of tiny figures jostle one another, dangling flaming effigies on poles, chanting, squabbling and occasionally scuffling with the guards, the city alight with hope and terror.

Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s attention to French Revolutionary Parisian detail is remarkable, every landmark and monument built to scale. (It’s also intimately scalable by the player.) Distractions abound: you could spend an hour registering the gothic minutia of a Rayonnant edifice’s tracery, or another enumerating biblical scenes in a church’s stained glass windows. Observe the burnished filigree crowning the massive wrought-iron gates to the Cour du Mai, the Corinthian portico of the triple-domed and frescoed Panthéon, or the sun glinting off lustrous iconography blanketing the dome of Les Invalides. It’s all here, and kind of nuts.

So is Unity a game or interactive diorama? Another tale of secret warring societies supported by its dazzling late 18th century metropolis, or architectonic fetish with a side of pulp?

Ubisoft

Maybe both. But then you push a button and leap from your roost and start moving through this ridiculously intricate insurrection simulator, clambering over realistically uneven slate rooftops and corroded chimneys linked by fictional passage-smoothing plank and rope skyways, only to find the actual game sagging beneath the weight of its world design. In short, Unity is a phenomenal world-building achievement held back by a glitchy navigation system.

Moving through the Assassin’s Creed games has always been fidgety, but it’s steadily improved over the years. Unity feels like a step back, though it’s hard to pinpoint why. Perhaps it’s the busier world geometry, its handholds and footpaths multiplied who-knows-how-many-fold, making it even easier to snag on something. Sometimes it’s clearly the game’s impaired frame rate in large crowds lagging behind your input. (That’s not an idle complaint; the game actually stutters severely in spots.) Maybe it’s just buggy. Maybe some of that will be ironed out in future patches. What I do know, is that Arno, the game’s French protagonist–an assassin who’s confused revenge for redemption in the game’s story–sometimes has a mind of his own.

If I push one way, he’ll occasionally leap in another. If I zig, odds are one out of four he’ll zag. I expect some slack in any 360-degree motion system, but this is something else. I haven’t fought the controls like this since the original Assassin’s Creed. It’s harmless enough when you’re wall-crawling freeform, but under the gun, say in one of those target-tailing missions with bonus challenges like “don’t touch the water,” whiffing the mission because Arno decides to dive off a wooden post into the drink instead of leaping to the next one on the third or fourth replay is exasperating.

But the biggest problem is that sometimes Arno won’t do anything at all.

Ubisoft

Climb a building with clearly navigable points and sometimes Arno gets stuck. Not “That next thing’s too high up, find another way” stymied, but “Why am I halfway up this continuous lattice and hitting all the right buttons and he’s frozen stiff?” I’m not misreading the path, because if I hammer the buttons or reset the thumbstick, he’ll swing into action and clear the distance, no problem. And I ran into this in even the simplest scenarios: dangling from a rope between buildings or hanging from the edge of an unobstructed platform (he’d neither climb nor drop), or trying to dive Dukes of Hazard style through an open window (hammering the button the game keeps telling me to hammer while ignoring my input). This is next-gen parkour?

It’s a shame, because so much else about Unity‘s design overhaul works. The new 3D overview map helps you better pinpoint objects in a 3D world. A downward free-run option (hold a button to climb down automatically) makes descending from even the highest points quick and safe. And Eagle Vision, the game’s spot-the-bad-guys radar system, now only works for brief periods, encouraging more judicious use.

There’s even a modest roleplaying angle: weapons, clothing, stealth moves and combat abilities–most familiar with a few wrinkles–are now spending-based unlocks that let you finesse your play style meaningfully. One of those skills, lockpicking, finally strikes the right balance between twitchy and skillful and now applies to doors that can open up alternate routes in missions. Those missions now feel like proper assassination puzzles, the game dropping you outside heavily patrolled fortresses and folding in optional goals you can engage to tweak your infiltration routes or unlock distractions. Carried over to the new cooperative play modes, where you and up to three other players can work together to dispatch operatives or recover loot, and Unity surpasses its predecessors.

Ubisoft

Some of the improvements are simple subtractions: The removal of automatic counters revitalizes combat, which regains some the original’s brutal simplicity and timing-related volatility. Guards on alert can no longer be assassinated from hiding spots (like hay wagons), encouraging shrewder stealth tactics. The home improvement game has fewer spending tiers and ties this more to side missions like the frontier activities in Assassin’s Creed III. And assassin-recruiting, training and deploying is no more, eliminating a pseudo-strategic moneymaking layer I never particularly liked.

Other changes seem like half-measures or outright missteps. Adding a button that lets you crouch gives you more approach options (to say nothing of making you feel stealthier), but the new guard-luring gimmicks–cherry bombs or taunting guards to probe by letting yourself be spotted then breaking the sightline–often fail because the guards seem to know you’re waiting and stop short of your hiding spot, even as you absurdly pepper them with fireworks.

While combat is more gratifying and enemies more aggressive, your bag of tricks remains small and the opponent A.I. types still too undifferentiated. (I powered through the game using the same attack-parry-stun-attack combos.) The new press-a-button-to-stick cover system often disregards your input and can’t be depended on during hair-trigger maneuvers. And what passes for a future story about leaping between servers and playing through alternate timelines to avoid detection (the series is basically The Matrix meets Ken Follett) recalls the dreary “Desmond climbs” missions in Assassin’s Creed III, where you prosaically pushed the thumbstick in the direction you wanted to travel and watched stuff happen.

Ubisoft

Speaking of the story, Ubisoft was wise to make it about Arno and keep most of the Revolution’s politicking in the background, but the character as written barely connects. Whatever we’re meant to feel about the things he endures, whatever the writers intended beyond a bit of brooding, debauchery and sense of being dragged along by tidal forces, Arno’s a little boring, his arc more an undifferentiated slope. His romantic interest has far more brio, and makes you wonder what might have been, had you been able to explore her story instead.

Shall I bother to malign the ending? Have endings in these games ever delivered? Here it’s another anticlimactic, predictable and tediously difficult mess, where–minor spoiler warning–you’re essentially dueling with Emperor Palpatine (think about what Palpatine’s known for), making use of none of the things you’ve just spent the entire game learning to do, while he chants “I have you now!” (Yes, that’s verbatim.)

“The past is not lost, the past lives inside us,” says a narrator during the game’s intro. It’s supposed to be a reference to the game’s parapsychological conceit about genetic memory, not ironic commentary on the game design. Unity has plenty of moments where some of its re-grounded systems harmonize, but too many where they don’t. Historical flavor and architectural verisimilitude alone can’t carry a game, and may in fact be part of what works against this one, even as I’ll admit to being gobsmacked at the audacity of Ubisoft’s city-replicating exercise, a towering achievement unto itself.

3 out of 5

Review using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

TIME technology

AT&T Won’t Be Bringing Wi-Fi to Your Next Flight After All

New York City Exteriors And Landmarks
Ben Hider—Getty Images A view of the exterior of the AT&T store in Times Sqaure on February 21, 2013 in New York City.

Hopes for an ATT LTE-based airborne network are officially grounded

AT&T has nixed an ambitious plan to roll out wireless Internet on board commercial flights, choosing instead to refocus its investments on international markets and video services, the carrier said Monday.

The move comes as AT&T is in the process of buying Mexican operator Iusacell for $1.7 billion and satellite broadcasting service DirecTV for $48.5 billion. Those deals are subject to Mexican and American regulators, respectively.

“After a thorough review of our investment portfolio, the company decided to no longer pursue entry into the in-flight connectivity industry,” an AT&T spokesman said in a statement to Reuters.

AT&T unveiled its plan to offer 4G LTE-based connections in April, putting it in direct competition with existing in-flight service provider Gogo Inc. Shares on Gogo Inc. climbed 10% on news of AT&T’s decision to bow out of the market.

[Reuters]

TIME robotics

This 6-Foot Robot Moves Like the Karate Kid

But we're still waiting to see the full-blown crane kick

The Google-owned robotics company Boston Dynamics has created a 6’2″, 330-pound robot that can mimic moves from The Karate Kid.

The robot, dubbed Atlas, isn’t quite a full-blown ninja yet—in a new video, the robot is shown balancing on a cinderblock on one leg and raising his arms slowly in the air, as in the iconic movie scene where Ralph Macchio unleashes the crane kick. While Boston Dynamics built the hardware, a robotics research institute called IHMC programmed the robot’s moves.

When not practicing karate, the Atlas robots are actually designed to provide humanitarian relief in areas that people cannot enter, such as nuclear disaster sites. Boston Dynamics has also created a robotic dog and a wildcat that can run at speeds of 25 miles per hour.

[Wired]

TIME Companies

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Plans to Launch Internet Satellites

Tesla Motors Inc. Makes Announcement About First Battery Gigafactory In Nevada
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc., attends a news conference at the Nevada State Capitol building in Carson City, Nevada, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014.

More details to come in "two to three months"

Elon Musk’s space travel startup SpaceX is developing a series of advanced micro-satellites to deliver low-cost Internet access to the masses. The billionaire entrepreneur revealed the plans Monday on his Twitter account, noting that the official announcement is still two to three months away.

SpaceX’s business primarily involves shuttling cargo and soon astronauts to the International Space Station. The Wall Street Journal reported the new venture will include the launch of 700 satellites weighing under 250 pounds each, but Musk disputed the details of the Journal article, saying on Twitter that it was “wrong on several important points.”

TIME Companies

Apple Wants a Bite of Corporate Business

Apple To Report Quarterly Earnings
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images The Apple logo is displayed on the exterior of an Apple Store on April 23, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

The personal device maker eyes the fast-growing mobile market for business professsionals

Apple has created a sales team dedicated to pitching new products and deals to corporate clients, according to a new report, heralding a new focus on office sales at a time when growth in its lucrative consumer business has slowed.

Reuters, citing unnamed sources familiar with the plan, reports that Apple has dispatched a sales team to meet with chief information officers at several corporations, including Citigroup. The company has also partnered with developers specializing in office management apps.

The move comes three months after Apple announced a partnership with IBM to deliver more mobile apps and devices to offices, putting it in direct competition with established players such as Microsoft and fast-growing entrants such as Google.

Read more at Reuters

TIME Gadgets

Your Gadgets May Soon Be Spying on Your Conversations

Amazon's latest gadget foreshadows a smart home that's listening to everything you say

Are you listening right now? Because your technology may be.

Amazon’s newest product, the Echo personal assistant and speaker, is just the latest in a long line of tech that aims to make our lives easier by responding to voice instead of touch. Probably the best known example is Apple’s Siri, which you can ask to dial your mom, write a text messages and get directions. Google and Microsoft have their own personal assistants, too—Google Now and Cortana, respectively, with the latter being named for the artificial intelligence in the Halo Xbox series.

But Amazon’s Echo, a standalone device that doesn’t rely on a phone to work, is less like Siri or Cortana and more like another Microsoft product—the Xbox Kinect, which hooks up to your home theater system and awaits your every entertainment-related command. Say “Xbox, watch TV,” and boom, on goes your television, cable box, speakers and anything else you might need to enjoy a new episode of The Walking Dead.

While Kinect is at the forefront of Microsoft’s efforts to dominate your entertainment center, Amazon is pitching Echo as a life assistant that can be helpful anywhere in your home: your living room, sure, but also your kitchen, bedroom or even the bathroom. Echo draws power from a wall outlet and gets an Internet connection through your home Wi-Fi network. To activate it, you simply speak a pre-selected “trigger word.” The family in Amazon’s first ad for Echo call it “Alexa,” but Star Trek fans might get a bigger kick out of calling it simply “computer,” though a more rarely-spoken word is probably your best bet to avoid accidental triggers.

Once you say the magic word, Echo can tackle a wide assortment of questions and requests. Amazon’s commercial reveals that Echo knows how tall Mount Rushmore is, it can spell “cantaloupe,” and it can add things to your grocery list. Probably the most helpful use case shown in Amazon’s commercial is Echo as kitchen assistant. It can provide, for instance, the number of teaspoons in a cup without you having to get your flour-covered hands all over your $500 iPad.

Still, always-listening devices like Echo or the Ubi, a similar device that obliterated its fundraising goal on Kickstarter two years ago, come with a certain creep factor. After the Snowden leaks, it’s a big ask of Amazon or any other company for us to put Internet-connected, always-listening microphone in our homes. The 1984 comparisons write themselves, and aren’t totally without precedent. Korean electronics giant LG was accused last year of using Internet-connected TVs to collect sensitive data about their owners’ viewing habits. Even if Amazon doesn’t do anything questionable with your Echo interactions, it does store them in the cloud, which, as we saw during the iCloud nude photo leak fiasco, isn’t totally hacker-proof.

Amazon acknowledged potential privacy worries right from Echo’s launch, making it a point for the dad in its family-based announcement video, above, to dispel her daughter’s fears over the device. Amazon also says Echo only grabs audio when somebody says the wake word (and for a few seconds beforehand, oddly enough). On the pro-transparency side, Echo owners can view, rate and delete any of their audio recordings. And if you’re having a conversation about which you’re particularly paranoid, you can turn off Echo’s microphone with a physical switch on the device, like a high-tech version of commanding your kids to “earmuff it for me.”

For those who can get past their privacy concerns, Echo, Kinect, Ubi and other devices like them promise to move us one step closer to a smart home that’s actually useful. Asking an Internet-connected cylinder to add stuff to the shopping list instead of doing that yourself might seem silly to those of us that would just as soon do the same thing on our smartphones, but there are already viable use cases: The kitchen example, sure, but a blind person could use something like Echo as a smartphone supplement; a grandparent who’s suffered a fall could ask it to call for help; a parent with a sick baby in his or her arms could ask it for medical advice.

Still, the world’s initial reaction to Amazon’s Echo felt muted at best. Echo doesn’t benefit from being packaged with a popular gaming console like Microsoft’s Kinect does, so it’ll have to prove its merits as a product on its own. The only way it’ll do that? If customers ultimately decide Echo’s utility outweighs everything else. If the Echo has an advantage over the Kinect here, it’s that the Kinect not only has a microphone, it’s got an ever-watching camera, too.

TIME apps

10 Apps for People Who Want to Fall in Love

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PeopleImages.com—Getty Images A young man and young woman share a laugh over a smartphone.

Winter is coming — fend off the cold by warming your heart

Everyone has a soul mate — at least that’s what fairytales would have us believe. Modern science, however, gives us far more than just one potential partner. For example, according to the math of It’s Okay to Be Smart, New Yorkers awash in a sea of eight million other city dwellers have at least 850 love connections — those are some numbers you can work with.

Tip the dating game odds in your favor by using one of these apps to meet your match:

1. Anomo: Anonymous apps have gotten a bad wrap recently, but one of their upsides is how they help shy people open up while still feeling protected. This anonymous social app connects you with other nearby Anomo users, inviting four others to join you in an icebreaker game. The games not only introduce you to new people, but they also help the app to learn your interests so it can find more compatible people for your next game. Then, once you’ve found someone you’re interested in, you can chat, revealing your personal details only once you’re ready.

Anomo is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

2. Coffee Meets Bagel: If your day drags even by lunchtime, this app might be the spice you need. Connecting to your Facebook account in order to serve up more-compatible friends-of-friends, this iPhone-only dating service delivers you a match (or “bagel”) each day at noon. You have 24-hours to like or pass on your person, and if that person also likes you, the app opens up a private text messaging line to get the conversation started.

Coffee Meets Bagel is available for free on the App Store.

3. eHarmony: According to the service’s website, 438 U.S.-based eHarmony members tie the knot every day. And well they should — with subscription rates for the service as high as $59 per month, users should demand those kinds of results. But the paid service is backed by research and fueled by singles’ answers to an extensive questionnaire designed at making matches that last. eHarmony also gives you insight into on your own personality that you may have never realized before. Then, serving potential mates up just a few at a time, you can use secure messaging to delve even deeper before diving into an actual date.

eHarmony is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

4. JSwipe: Finding a mate can be hard. Finding a mate who’s also a member of The Tribe can be even harder. Combining dating website’s JDate’s Jewish-centric sensibilities with Tinder’s ease of use, this iPhone-only pairing service brings modern convenience to the age-old challenge of finding someone you can bring home to mom.

The app presents users with a potential match. If you both give each other a check, then they’re able to message each other through the app to see where things go. But don’t take too long — JSwipe makes messages disappear after a few days, encouraging extra-app interaction sooner rather than later.

JSwipe is available for free on the App Store.

5. Match: Tried and true, this web-based matchmaking service has been pairing people since 1995. And with 82% of its 2.3 million subscribers over age 30, it’s aimed squarely at the pre-mobile Internet user. But this past April, to get hip with the kids, Match’s iOS and Android apps brought modern photo- and data-rich features to the mix. Still, by relying mostly on in-depth user profiles (with pictures, of course), it’s a somewhat old school way for solo artists put their best foot forward. And though its service is free for looking, you have to pay to play. (or, more accurately, message someone who gives you the butterflies.)

Match is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

6. Meetup: If you’re surprised to see a group activity app on this list, perhaps you haven’t considered how sexy “common interests” and “pursuing your passions” can be. With more than 19 million users and at least 500,000 monthly meet-ups, the odds that you’ll find someone who shares your love for anything from acupressure to zip-lining are pretty good. The app lets you look for things you’re into, or if you’re open to new experiences, just browse the wide range of get-togethers on the calendar. At its best, Meetup can help you find a life-long partner who shares your enthusiasm for great experiences. And at its worst, hey, at least you can have fun doing something you love.

Meetup is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

7. OkCupid: Meeting people is easy, but math can be hard. This data-driven service does all the computations to take bad matches out of the equation using a seemingly endless supply of questions to turn its budding romantics into ones and zeros. By providing users with match percentages, OkCupid shows them how good a fit their prospective dates could be. Of course the service also offers photos, messaging, and chat features, and the apps port these onto smaller, mobile screens. But OkCupid’s most attractive selling point also tends to be its biggest downside: it’s free. As a result, people don’t have to put any financial skin in the game, which is ironic because some of the fellas have been known to ask to see some skin in private messages. Maybe if they had to pay, they’d take it more seriously.

OkCupid is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

8. Pet Finder: If you’re already smitten on kittens or fond of man’s best friend, you know the bottomless cups of love that these cuddle buddies dole out on a daily basis. But if you don’t have an animal in your life, there are several reasons you should reconsider. First, by getting you out for a couple of daily walks, dogs are good for your heart. Beyond that, file cabinets full of research has also shown that petting animals lowers stress and blood pressure (reducing incidences of heart attack). Four-legged friends also calm anxiety and help with loneliness, just the thing for a broken heart. If that’s still not enough, rescuing a pet can actually make you hotter. According to research by PetSmart Charities and Match, 59% of singles revealed that discovering a mate’s pet was adopted, not bought, made them more attracted to their partner. Meow.

Petfinder is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

9. Tinder: Possibly the hottest app on Earth right now, Tinder has brought dating into the mobile era, with a mate-browsing interface that’s so easy you only need to wiggle a finger to get someone’s attention. The service connects to your Facebook account, linking to your pictures and other relevant data, but keeping your name and contact information private. Then you’re fed a steady stream of potential matches, or “cards” that you flip through. Swiping left rejects them, while swiping right marks them as a “like.” If he or she ends up liking you in return, then you’ve made a match and are able to message each other. If Tinder was any easier, people would be saying dirty things behind its back. (Actually, they do — it’s often used as a “hook-up” app.)

Tinder is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

10. Twitter: Twitter, the 140-character social network? Yes, that Twitter. Falling in love is all about making new connections, and that’s where this worldwide social network thrives. By following people who share your interests, you’re able to spread your wings and — though it may sound cliche — your heart might just soar. Doubtful? Well these two relationship experts sparked up a romance on Twitter after they started following conversations containing the “#dating” hashtag. A retweet here and a direct message there, and five year’s later they’ve tied the knot. #ModernLove

Twitter is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

TIME technology

U.S. and China Strike Trade Deal to Cut Tech Tariffs

U.S. President Obama shakes hands with China's President Xi during the APEC forum, at the International Convention Center in Beijing
Kim Kyung Hoon —Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing on November 11, 2014.

Path now smoothed for the first major tariff-slashing initiative at the World Trade Organization in nearly 20 years

China and the U.S. have succeeded in hammering out an agreement that will allow for the expansion of a trade deal aimed at removing myriad tariffs on high-tech goods, according to a statement released by the White House late on Monday.

The new deal forged by Washington and Beijing at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this week is set to pave the way for the enlargement of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and the recommencement of the first significant tariff-cutting deal at the World Trade Organization in nearly two decades.

The ITA first went into effect in 1997; however, the scope of the deal has never been increased despite the tectonic advances in technology in the past 17 years. Negotiations over widening the breadth of IT products covered by the pact were first launched in 2012, but had largely stalled due to continuing disagreements between the U.S. and China.

“It was APEC’s work that led to the Information Technology Agreement, which we are now negotiating to expand,” said President Barack Obama during an APEC plenary session in Beijing. “It is fitting that we are here with our APEC colleagues to share the news that the United States and China have reached an understanding that we hope will contribute to a rapid conclusion of the broader negotiations in Geneva.”

Proponents of bolstering the range of goods covered by the ITA argue that the deal would result in the generation of an estimated $1 trillion in annual international sales of IT products.

—With reporting by Zeke J. Miller

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