Gadget Lab: Weekly Tech News from WIRED

WIRED

WIRED’s Gadget Lab podcast breaks down which gadgets, apps, and services you need to know about, and which ones you can move to the virtual trash bin. Learn how today’s tech shapes our lives—plus get your hosts’ personal recommendations at the end of each episode.

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Episodes

A Chat About Airchat
Yesterday
A Chat About Airchat
Silicon Valley tech types love their edgy new social media startups. The latest is Airchat, an audio-first social app that lets its users express their every thought by posting short snippets of audio. All of these snippets are served in a never-ending feed, a la Twitter. There are replies, there are DMs, but there’s no typing; it’s all spoken audio. The platform is exclusively invitation-only for now, so the current user base is made up mostly of Valley insiders, optimistic venture capitalists, and crypto evangelists, which definitely informs the types of conversations you’ll find on the app. If you're thinking this sounds a lot like Clubhouse, the audio-based social space that flared up during the Covid-19 pandemic, well, you're not too far off.This week on Gadget Lab, we talk to WIRED’s Director of Special Projects Alan Henry about making mouth sounds on Airchat and whether the buzzy new social startup will appeal to anyone outside the Silicon Valley technosphere.Show Notes:Read Lauren’s story about Airchat.Recommendations:Alan recommends the Kurzgesagt YouTube channel. Lauren recommends Julian Chokkattu’s review of the Humane Ai Pin and Scoop, a movie about journalism that’s streaming on Netflix. Mike recommends our new sibling podcast, WIRED Politics Lab.Alan can be found on social media @halophoenix. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
Shopping for a New Social Feed
Apr 4 2024
Shopping for a New Social Feed
Hey, did you see the ad for that Bluetooth-enabled Shiatsu foot massager? How about the one for the organic mushroom supplement powder? They're probably not even the most interesting things you can buy on TikTok or Instagram. Just as the apps have thrived on a steady stream of feel-good content, they have also inundated their users with cheap, bright, and shiny stuff they can swipe through and buy with just a few taps. It's a trend that's spread out to every social site, and has taken a unique shape on TikTok through the platform’s new experimental TikTok Shop. Now, it's hard to get through a couple videos without being accosted by virility pills, fast fashion, and hangover cures.This week on Gadget Lab, WIRED staff writer Amanda Hoover joins us to talk about the weird world of TikTok Shop, how its fee structure is evolving, and why it feels like every single social media service is pivoting to zany products.Show Notes:Read Amanda’s story about TikTok Shop raising its seller fees. Listen to our recent episode (#636) about the possibility of a TikTok ban.Recommendations:Amanda recommends the HungovrAF cap. Mike recommends the documentary Anselm, directed by Wim Winders. Lauren recommends Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks.Amanda Hoover can be found on social media @byamandahoover. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
DOJ Calls Out Apple in the Group Chat
Mar 28 2024
DOJ Calls Out Apple in the Group Chat
Apple has gotten used to being a favorite target of rivals and government agencies. The company has been repeatedly scrutinized by regulators, and other tech companies have accused the company of anticompetitive practices. Apple’s most recent legal challenge is a doozy: an antitrust lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice and more than a dozen state attorneys general. The suit takes aim at the security and privacy features offered only on the iPhone, and accuses Apple of using that exclusivity to lock consumers into its ecosystem. At the center of the suit is the lack of true cross-platform encryption on Apple’s messaging platform—the green bubble-blue bubble divide—which the government alleges harms consumers by leaving them more vulnerable to attacks.This week on Gadget Lab, we talk with WIRED senior security editor Andrew Couts about the encryption and privacy issues behind the DOJ's suit against Apple, and how the dreaded green bubbles on iMessage factor in.Show Notes:Read Andrew and Andy Greenberg’s WIRED story about how the DOJ is targeting Apple's iMessage encryption. Read Lauren’s story about how the antitrust case is all about the green bubbles, really.Recommendations:Andrew recommends profumo del chianti sea salt. Lauren recommends the book Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Mike recommends going to the Big Ears music festival next year.Andrew Couts can be found on social media @AndrewCouts. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
The TikTok Ban
Mar 14 2024
The TikTok Ban
You may only know TikTok as the massively popular social video app for phone-obsessed teens, but lately the app has been caught in the political fray. On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives approved a bipartisan bill that, should it become law, would require TikTok’s parent company, the Chinese firm ByteDance, to sell the app or else see it banned on devices in the US. Lawmakers in the US have expressed concerns that data from American TikTok users is being shared with a Chinese company, and that therefore TikTok poses a threat to national security. This week on Gadget Lab, we’re joined by WIRED’s senior politics writer Makena Kelly to talk about those security concerns, what this bill means for the rest of the tech industry, and what could happen if TikTok is actually banned.Show Notes:Read Makena on the bill that would ban TikTok, and read Vittoria Elliott’s update on Wednesday’s vote. We also have instructions to get your videos off TikTok. Read all of WIRED’s TikTok coverage.Recommendations:Makena recommends going to the office. (Really.) Mike recommends Ener-C powdered vitamin drink mix. Lauren reiterates Kate Knibbs’ earlier recommendation of American Fiction, the film that just won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Makena Kelly can be found on social media @kellymakena. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
Google’s ‘Woke AI’ Problem
Mar 7 2024
Google’s ‘Woke AI’ Problem
The last few months have been rough for Google. Company executives have been in the hot seat because of some embarrassing missteps, the most awkward of which was the bungled launch of Google’s latest image generator. The company launched it as part of its suite of GenAI tools named Gemini, but then quickly pulled it back after the generator produced some seriously weird results.This week, we welcome WIRED senior writer Paresh Dave back to the show to talk about Gemini’s strange outputs. We also talk about some of the staffing pains Google has been going through recently, including layoffs and accusations of discrimination. Show Notes:Read more about the “woke AI” controversy. Read Bloomberg’s story about Google’s layoffs to its trust and safety team. Read Paresh’s story about the Googler with a disability who alleges workplace discrimination at the company. Listen to our broader discussion about tech layoffs on episode 633.Recommendations:Paresh recommends the food blog The Fancy Navajo. Lauren recommends Lauren Mechling’s story in The Guardian about journalism; the Le Carré Cast podcast, particularly the episode about the secret life of the famous spy author; and Mike recommends the film collection “And the Razzie Goes to …” on the Criterion Channel.Paresh can be found on social media @peard33.bsky.social. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
The Non-Techie's Guide to Nvidia
Feb 29 2024
The Non-Techie's Guide to Nvidia
Unless you were really into desktop PC gaming a decade ago, you probably didn't give Nvidia much thought until recently. The company makes graphics cards, among other tech, and has earned great success thanks to the strength of the gaming industry. But it's been nothing compared to the explosive growth Nvidia has enjoyed over the past year. That's because Nvidia's tech is well-suited to power the machines that run large language models, the basis for the generative AI systems that have swept across the tech industry. Now Nvidia is an absolute behemoth, with a skyrocketing stock value and a tight grip on the most impactful—and controversial—tech of this era.This week on Gadget Lab, we welcome WIRED’s Will Knight, who writes about AI, as our guest. Together, we boot up our Nvidia® GeForce RTX™ 4080 SUPER graphics cards to render an ultra high-def conversation about the company powering the AI boom.Show Notes:Read Lauren’s interview with Nvidia cofounder and CEO, Jensen Huang. Read Will’s story about the need for more chips in AI computing circles, and his story about the US government’s export restrictions on chip technology. Read all of our Nvidia coverage.Recommendations:Will recommends WhisperKit from Argmax for machine transcription. Mike recommends getting your garden going now; it’s almost spring. Lauren recommends Say Nothing, a book by Patrick Radden Keefe.Will Knight can be found on social media @willknight Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
Tech Workers Are Stressed Out
Feb 22 2024
Tech Workers Are Stressed Out
tech companies seemed immune to large-scale layoffs, and as their profits skyrocketed, those cushy jobs became highly sought-after. But economic headwinds, and the looming influence of AI, are leading to some tumultuous changes in the tech industry.In just the first seven weeks of this year, Amazon, Google, Discord, Duolingo, Cisco, Instacart, and dozens of others all made deep staffing cuts. It all adds up to tens of thousands of jobs lost across the industry, and the cuts aren't slowing down. It doesn't help that interviewing for tech jobs is getting harder too, with employers asking for more and more work or rigorous testing before making a hire. This week, WIRED senior writer Paresh Dave joins us to talk about whether the layoffs will cool off, and why right now is a daunting time to be looking for a tech job.Show Notes:Read Paresh’s story about how Google has been cutting down on its acquisitions lately. Read Amanda Hoover on recent tech industry layoffs, and her story about the TikTok layoff videos folks have been posting. Read Lauren’s story about how tech job interviews are getting even more demanding. And of course, follow all of WIRED’s coverage of how AI and how it affects people’s livelihoods.Recommendations:Paresh recommends making an effort to connect and collaborate with your disabled colleagues. Lauren recommends the documentary The Eternal Memory. Mike recommends listening to Ty Segall’s new album Three Bells and watching his live show.Paresh Dave can be found on social media @peard33. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
The Weird World of an AI Clickbait King
Feb 15 2024
The Weird World of an AI Clickbait King
Domain names have value, even when the websites that were once hosted there are shut down or abandoned. Prospectors will often swoop in and snatch up an unused domain, then erect a new website filled with clickbait articles. If the domain name used to rank highly in search results, the new clickbait articles will also rank highly, guaranteeing the prospector a steady stream of visitors searching the web for common phrases. These zombie sites are all over the web; you’ve probably landed on them many times yourself. But this shady market is poised to grow exponentially thanks to the proliferation of generative AI tools. Text generators like ChatGPT make it easier for prospectors to crank out clickbait articles at greater speed, feeding an already raging river of pablum.This week, Kate Knibbs tells us about her WIRED story on one of these entrepreneurs in the world of AI-generated clickbait hosted on squatted domains.Show Notes:Read Kate’s story about Nebojša Vujinović Vujo and his clickbait empire. Also read Kate’s original investigation into what happened to The Hairpin, a popular blog for womens’ writing that went defunct and was then reborn as a content mill.Recommendations:Kate recommends the novella Tusks of Extinction by Ray Nayler. Brian recommends the novel The Bee Sting by Paul Murray. Lauren recommends giving up fancy, creamy coffee drinks for Lent. Mike recommends the social media platform BlueSky, which is now open to everyone.Kate Knibbs can be found on social media @Knibbs. Brian Barrett is @brbarrett. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
Several People Are Talking
Feb 8 2024
Several People Are Talking
At its core, Slack is a chat app. Every day, millions of people use it to communicate, share files, and gossip with coworkers or friend groups in one organized place. That style of free-flowing interaction—which Slack didn’t invent, but made mainstream—has changed the way we talk to each other online for better and for worse. It’s brought us closer together and enabled global collaboration, but it’s also allowed conversations to follow us anywhere … like when you get a notification at 10 pm that your boss has sent you a DM.This week, MIT Technology Review editor in chief Mat Honan joins the show to chronicle the history of Slack as the software suit turns 10 years old. We dig into how it helped our work lives bleed into our personal time, and how the company is faring under the auspices of Salesforce and against its competitors.Show Notes:Read Mat’s 2014 story about Slack founder Stewart Butterfield and his boring startup. Here’s Lauren’s story about the Slack soft return and other office hacks you might want to use. Listen to the episode of WIRED’s Have A Nice Future podcast with former Slack CEO Lidiane Jones.Recommendations:Mat recommends Airtags and the ChatGPT sticker bot. Mike recommends the Raw Impressions podcast with Lou and Adelle Barlow. Lauren recommends using the soft return in Slack. Mat Honan can be found on social media @mat. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
Apple’s Uncanny Valley Pro
Feb 1 2024
Apple’s Uncanny Valley Pro
Apple's first ever mixed reality headset, the Vision Pro, arrives tomorrow. Apple has a knack for revitalizing and legitimizing a product category—something that the face computer market really needs right now. But there are some hangups that could limit its initial success: the Vision Pro's exorbitant $3,499 price tag, the tethered battery pack, and the mere handful of apps available on the device at launch. These issues point to this headset being more of a development kit than a fully realized product for now. It's a beautiful machine, but its true potential may not be realized for some time.This week on Gadget Lab, WIRED reviews editor Julian Chokkattu joins us to chat about the Apple Vision Pro and whether it's going to be the device that finally kicks off the face computer revolution. We also talk about the ways Apple is trying to make the headset disappear as part of the experience, both in the virtual space and in the physical realm.Show Notes:Read Julian’s hands-on experience with the Apple Vision Pro. Read Lauren’s story about the Apple Vision Pro’s battery pack. Read Boone Ashworth on the current situation with apps and developers. Recommendations:Julian recommends Thumbtack, a platform to connect homeowners with service vendors. Lauren recommends butter lettuce. Mike recommends the Scottish police show Shetland.Julian Chokkattu can be found on social media @JulianChokkattu. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
I Know What You Did With That Bitcoin
Jan 25 2024
I Know What You Did With That Bitcoin
If you’ve committed any internet crimes lately, you probably shouldn’t have paid for them with Bitcoin. While many crypto-evangelists have long thought of digital currency as a means of buying legal and illicit goods on the web with total anonymity, the fact is that nearly all cryptocurrency transactions leave a digital trail behind them that can point to your true identity. No matter how hard you try to hide, a dedicated sleuth with the right resources can find you.This week on Gadget Lab, WIRED senior cybersecurity writer and author of the book Tracers in the Dark digs into all the ways investigators, government agents, and hackers can track down criminals online by “following the money” exchanged in cryptocurrency transactions.This show originally aired on February 9, 2023.Show NotesAndy’s book is Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency. You can read two excerpts from the book on WIRED.com: the six-part AlphaBay saga and the feature about the takedown of a website for sharing child sex abuse materials.RecommendationsAndy recommends the deliberately frustrating game Getting Over It. Lauren recommends Andy’s WIRED story about the animal activists whose spy cams revealed the grim realities of pork slaughterhouses. Mike recommends the book Art Is Life by the art critic Jerry Saltz.Andy can be found on social media @a_greenberg. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
Abortion Pill Orders Are Soaring
Jan 4 2024
Abortion Pill Orders Are Soaring
In 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that protected abortion rights in the United States. Since then, many states have rolled back abortion services or made them outright illegal. That includes some states restricting access to abortion pills like mifepristone. Now, at the start of an election year in the US and a year that will bring more legal challenges to abortion rights, a new study shows that women are stockpiling abortion pills in record numbers—even if they aren’t currently pregnant.This week, we welcome WIRED senior writer Kate Knibbs onto the show to talk about abortion medication, the trend of “advance provision” requests for mifepristone, and the coming legal fight over continued access to telehealth and in-person abortion services.Show Notes:Read Kate’s story about how women in the US are stockpiling abortion pills. Read our primer on menstrual regulation medications. Learn more about the upcoming US Supreme Court case that could change some Americans’ access to the pills.Recommendations:Kate recommends the film American Fiction. Mike recommends the movie Godland. Lauren recommends embracing the theory of Dunbar’s number and focusing on your closest relationships.Kate Knibbs can be found on social media @Knibbs. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
Oops, All Recommendations!
Dec 21 2023
Oops, All Recommendations!
It’s been a year, that’s for sure. Every week on Gadget Lab, we end the show by bringing you our recommendations for all of our favorite tech, books, TV shows, and life hacks. Now, at the end of the year, we’re going all-in on that idea with an entire episode dedicated to those recommendations. We talk about all the things that helped us get through 2023 and have us looking forward to 2024.This week on Gadget Lab, we make the mistake of letting our producer Boone Ashworth grab a mic again. He joins Lauren and Michael to talk about the best gadgets, lifestyle changes, shows, and culinary curiosities of 2023.Show Notes:Our talk with Casey Johnston from May of 2023 can be found in episode number 598. Read more about ActivityPub and the coming federated social media landscape. Here’s our review of the new Valve Steam Deck OLED. See our list of our favorite electric kettles.Recommendations:Boone recommends running a half marathon or two, the new OLED Steam Deck, and Ableton Live software for making music (or at least pretending you understand how to). Lauren recommends lifting weights for fitness, an Oxo electric kettle, and the 2021 movie The Worst Person in the World. Mike recommends getting to know ActivityPub, watching the show Scavenger’s Reign on Max, and eating lots of chili crisp.Boone Ashworth can be found on social media @booneashworth. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth. Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
Taylor Swift’s Pro-Russia Doppelganger
Dec 14 2023
Taylor Swift’s Pro-Russia Doppelganger
Does your favorite movie star or pop singer really love the Kremlin? Though the ads in your Facebook feed may lead you to believe such a thing, it’s just not true. In recent months, a major disinformation campaign has run rampant on Meta and X (aka Facebook and Twitter). The campaign uses fake ads that show existing photos of extremely famous celebrities—Beyoncé, Oprah, Justin Bieber, Shakira, Cristiano Ronaldo—which have been doctored to include fake quotes that back Russia and criticize Ukraine. The campaign, which is still in progress, was perpetrated by a pre-Kremlin group known as Doppelganger. Information shared exclusively with WIRED has also linked this disinformation campaign to Russia’s GRU military spy agency. On this week’s show, we talk with WIRED contributor David Gilbert, who reports on digital disinformation. David says Doppelganger has been acting in plain sight for over a year, buying targeted ads and using networks of bots and fake Facebook pages to get its pro-Russia propaganda in front of millions of people. Show Notes:Read David’s story about Doppelganger’s campaign. Read all of David’s recent coverage. Also read our coverage of other online propaganda campaigns.Recommendations:David recommends the movie Saltburn. Mike recommends buying Italian blood orange soda instead of sparkling cider for your next holiday part. Lauren recommends supporting a union!David Gilbert can be found wrangling all kinds of disinformation on social media @daithaigilbert. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
Blue Bubbles Versus Green Bubbles
Dec 7 2023
Blue Bubbles Versus Green Bubbles
When an Android user sends a text message to an iPhone user, their chat bubble shows up in iOS shaded green rather than iMessage's default blue. This color coding signals to the iPhone user that the incoming text is arriving from outside the Apple ecosystem. But the divide goes beyond simple aesthetics. Photos and videos shared between the two mobile platforms don’t come through at full resolution. Neither do rich interactions like read receipts, typing indicators, and tapbacks. Group chats between the platforms are a total mess, filled with dropped messages and hurt feelings. A new app aims to bridge that blue-green bubble gap and make texting more seamless—and more secure with full encryption. It even turns Android texts blue! It’s what we’ve always wanted … right?This week on Gadget Lab, we talk about Beeper Mini, the app trying to make our text conversations easier. WIRED features editor Jason Kehe joins us to campaign against the trend of interoperability on our phones. As Jason sees it, these friction-free communication mechanisms are causing us to slip into bad habits, become more isolated, and feel less inclined to put down our phones and have a real experience.Show Notes:Read Lauren’s story about the new Beeper app and the teenage coder who helped make it work. Read more of Jason’s various other controversial opinions.Recommendations:Jason recommends piracy, and also a few works about pirates like the show Our Flag Means Death and the book Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly. Lauren recommends the new BlackBerry movie. Mike recommends pizzelle Italian cookies. Buy ‘em or make ‘em.Jason Kehe can be found on social media @jkehe. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.