What is email spoofing? | Digital Trends

As phishing attempts grow more advanced, so do the efforts to imitate real organizations, which make it easier to trick unsuspecting recipients into divulging valuable information or assets. A common tactic here is spoofing an email, or making it look like it came from somewhere it didn’t.

Let’s take a look at what email spoofing means, how it affects you, and what to watch for.

What is email spoofing?

Spoofing occurs when an email is sent with a faked sender address, designed to make it look like the email came from a source that it did not.

Email spoofing is frequently used in phishing attacks, attempts to get unsuspecting people or businesses to divulge personal information or even send money. Phishing attempts can be far more sophisticated than the classic “Nigerian prince” email. Some types of phishing work very hard to make emails really seem like they come from trusted institutions like a bank, a government agency, or a nonprofit, right down to faking logos and staff information. Part of the forgery also includes a spoofed email address to make it look like the email really did come from the institution in question.

In other cases, spoofing is sometimes used to automatically create fake email address for each message as a way to get around spam filters. More benign versions of spoofing can also help users keep their privacy, which is why services offer the ability to create disposable email addresses.

What is an example of email spoofing?

For an average online user, a spoofing attack may look like an email from a large national bank, like Wells Fargo or U.S. Bank. It will have its logo in the email, often at the top to make it look authentic, and will be from an email address associated with that bank, like The email will begin with an urgent header like “Account Fraud Warning” or “Overdraw Limit Exceeded” and then will ask the recipient to take immediate action. That action could include sending over valuable account information, even account numbers, selecting a link that leads to a malicious website, or downloading a file that contains malware.

There are many other examples of how spoofing can work this way. Some may imitate credit bureaus and warn about credit score problems. Others can be even simpler — this example from Microsoft Outlook warns of an expired password.

Outlook Phishing email example.

On the business side, spoofed emails may go to great lengths to appear that they are from legitimate parties requesting a wire transfer or a change in payment information that could lead to the theft of millions of dollars.

Is email spoofing legally a cybercrime?

Creating disposable email addresses to, say, sign up for a free trial is technically a form of spoofing. However, the law gets involved when spoofing actively tries to impersonate another sender, especially when the goal is to steal valuable information or money. In these cases, the FBI asks people to report spoofing and phishing attempts.

Contoso Phishing email example.

Can someone spoof my email address?

People who spoof emails can set the apparent email address to be anything they want. That means that scammers who have your email address can use it in a spoofed email. Some scammers or spammers get lists of real emails from data theft caches online and use them for this purpose. However, since most scammers want to appear legitimate when creating phishing emails, it’s less likely that they will use the email address of an average online user.

If your email is spoofed, you may know by all the bounced back “can’t deliver” emails that are a result of spamming bots. It’s not easy to stop these, except to filter them out and wait for the spamming attempt to stop.

And, of course, keeping your email as private as possible can help decrease your risk, which ironically means making use of disposable email addresses.

How can I spot a spoofed email?

It can be difficult, but the best way is to always follow up and ask for more information without clicking on anything in the email or sending back a message. Find contact information for the organization in question directly from their website, and call them directly or send a question to support to see if the request is real.

Check both the sender’s name and the full email address in the received section of the email, too. Often, spoofing attempts don’t extend to additional sections of the email, and the received notation in an email is an easy way to check.

Always be wary of any email asking for money in any form. Institutions don’t use email as a method of sending invoices or asking for wire transfers, etc. If an email looks authentic, always take the time to call the organization and find a contact there to check if it’s legitimate.

Can I stop spoofed emails?

Not easily. However, many email clients do have built-in ways to spot and remove spoofed emails. Use an updated email app to help cut down on spoofing spam as much as possible. Don’t create filters for spoofed addresses, as you may want to receive emails from the authentic sender at some point.

Editors’ Choice

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Is Halo Infinite Cross-platform? | Digital Trends

The Halo franchise has been the face of Xbox since the two launched together way back in 2001. Since then, each subsequent game has been a major improvement on the series’ formula, while pushing multiplayer shooters on consoles forward as a whole. With their innovations in matchmaking, forge, theater mode, custom games, and more, the Halo games have always gone above and beyond to make their multiplayer offerings as robust as possible.

Halo Infinite has taken a unique step for the series. For the first time, the multiplayer component will be a stand-alone, free-to-play game. Not only that, but it is going to be available on three different systems at launch: The Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, and the PC. With so many options of where to play, especially when there’s no price of admission, you might be wondering where you want to play. If you want to be sure you and your friends can all squad up together for one of the biggest multiplayer shooter releases of the year, here’s everything you need to know about Halo Infinite cross-play.

See more

Does Halo Infinite have cross-play?

The short and sweet answer is yes, Halo Infinite does support cross-play on all the platforms it is available on. That means you can team up with anyone playing on the original Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, and PC all in the same game. There’s no barrier between you and your friends in terms of getting together to play some multiplayer fun.

However, at least for now, this only applies to the competitive multiplayer modes. As we learned earlier, Halo Infinite’s co-op campaign will not be available at launch. Once it does come, we expect to allow players on any supported system to join up in this mode as well.

Does Halo Infinite have cross-progression?

A yellow spartan holding a pyramid.

If you have multiple systems or like to switch between PC and console, you can also rest easy knowing that Halo Infinite has full cross-progression support as well. Any progress you make on one platform, such as the Xbox Series X, can be transferred over seamlessly and picked up on the PC whenever you wish. This includes your multiplayer ranking, character, and all that progress, plus your progress in the campaign when that launches as well.

Editors’ Choice

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3 trends driving data observability

Enterprise “data observability” is a hot space right now.

Over the past couple of months, investors have pumped $200 million into each of Cribl and Grafana Labs, two data observability startups, and lesser amounts into related companies like Acceldata and DeepFactor.

What’s behind this frenzy?

Well, enterprise data systems are like a busy family household. From room to room, you have a complex ebb and flow of activity, with people coming and going, and doors opening and closing. Various inbound streams from utilities make it all go: water flowing through pipes, electricity, and Wi-Fi powering everything, and warm or cool air flowing through the vents.

The difference is that in the enterprise, the data deluge is increasing at an unprecedented rate.

At home, as in the enterprise, it’s easy to take this complexity for granted day-to-day, but when something goes haywire, life can instantly grind to a halt. At home, this is why we have modern conveniences such as smart thermostats, connected appliances, and webcam security systems. These gadgets let us monitor what’s going on in the home, be it a dead lightbulb or an unwanted intruder — and then try to rectify the problem.

This ability to monitor and understand the system is the reason why data observability is one of the hottest topics in enterprise IT at the moment. To be clear, here is what we’re discussing:

  • Monitoring: solutions that allow teams to watch and understand what is happening in their data systems, based on gathering predefined sets of metrics or logs.
  • Observability: solutions that allow teams why changes are happening in their systems, including answering questions that may not have been previously asked or thought of.

The home analogy is what Clint Sharp, cofounder, and CEO of data observability company Cribl, sometimes uses while trying to explain data observability in relatable terms.

“Observability is the ability to ask and answer questions of complex systems, including questions I may not have planned in advance,” Sharp said, likening observability tools to a thermostat that will notify you if the temperature in your home suddenly goes dramatically higher or lower than expected.

“A harder question to answer is: Why did the temperature go awry?” Sharp said. “That can be a difficult thing to diagnose, especially if I’m doing it on a modern application with dozens of developers working on it and all kinds of complex interactions.”

Data observability is about the ‘why’

The “why” part is what data observability is all about, and it’s what sets it apart from simply monitoring for problems — meaning the “what” — within IT infrastructure and data systems. During the last few years, enterprises have begun shifting from mere data monitoring to data observability, and the trend is only now beginning to pick up steam.

By 2024, enterprises will increase their adoption rate of observability tools by 30%, according to research firm Gartner. And 90% of IT leaders say that observability is critical to the success of their business, with 76% saying they expect to see their observability budgets increase next year, according to New Relic’s 2021 Observability Forecast,

This is good news for people such as Cribl’s Sharp, whose startup is just one of many players in this fast-growing ecosystem. For its part, Cribl offers a centralized observability infrastructure that can plug into a vast array of data sources and observability tools. There are plenty of them out there: Splunk, Accel Data, Monte Carlo, Bigeye, and Databand are just a handful of the companies focused on data observability at the moment.

Data observability is a fast-growing discipline in the world of enterprise technology that seeks to help organizations answer one question: How healthy is the data in their system? With all the disparate (and often differently formatted) data flowing into, within, and out of enterprises, where are the potential weaknesses — such as missing, broken, or incomplete data — that could lead to a business-crippling outage?

Observability consists of five pillars

Good data observability includes:

  • Freshness, or how up-to-date the data tables are;
  • Distribution, or whether the data covers the correct range;
  • Volume, or the amount and completeness of data;
  • Schema, which monitors changes to data’s structure;
  • Lineage, which identifies where data breaks and tells you which sources were impacted.

The cost of data outages can be enormous. From lost revenue and eroded customer confidence to reduced team productivity and morale, enterprises have a lot to lose when data pipelines break. As enterprise data systems grow more complex and multi-layered — with data flowing from a wide variety of sources and more people interacting with it — the need for observability is becoming increasingly urgent.

Good data observability is about more than just preventing a catastrophe. By applying observability best practices to their data stacks, enterprises can boost efficiency, speed up innovation, and even reduce IT costs by making it easier to optimize their data infrastructure and avoid unnecessary over-provisioning. It can even help with talent retention, as a well-oiled and problem-free environment keeps engineers and other team members happy.

It’s no wonder enterprises are starting to take data observability seriously. So what’s next for this up-and-coming space? Here are three major trends shaping the future of data observability.

Trend No. 1: AI supercharges data observability

Like many aspects of modern life, artificial intelligence is making its mark on enterprise data observability. In fact, many would argue that AIOps — or the use of AI to automate and enhance IT operations — is an essential requirement for true observability. At a high level, machine learning and other AI technologies can help teams more easily analyze large, interconnected sets of data. This automatically detects problematic patterns and zeroes in on the root of issues when they do occur.

Observability platform company Monte Carlo, for example, uses AI models to identify patterns in query logs, trigger investigative follow-up results, and look for upstream dependency changes to determine the cause of a given issue., an observability tool for call centers, uses natural language processing and automatic speech recognition to transcribe and analyze customer service phone calls, while automatically flagging repetitive patterns, data shifts, and anomalies.

Trend No. 2: data standardization helps observability evolve

There’s a reason that the schema of data is one of the five pillars of observability. With data coming from so many sources and in different formats, it’s no wonder that variances in the structure of those datasets can cause mismatches and other data problems.

So enterprises are pushing for standardization. For example, OpenTelemetry is a new, open source framework that aims to tame some of the data chaos and make observability easier across different platforms, pipelines, and data sources. Through its collection of open, vendor-neutral tools, SDKs, and APIs, OpenTelemetry gives organizations a standardized way to collect telemetry data — the metrics, traces, and logs that make up the heart of data observability — and easily route that data between various services and data analysis tools.

Trend No. 3: data observability shifts further into the cloud

With more and more aspects of enterprise tech and operations happening in the cloud, it’s no surprise that data observability would be shifting in that direction as well. Increasingly popular cloud data architectures such Snowflake allow enterprises to store and use their data in the cloud, while data virtualization and visualization tools make it easier for teams to make sense of that data.

The cloud is also becoming a friendlier place for data observability itself. Cribl, for example, recently announced a new feature called LogStream Cloud Enterprise, which allows companies to move sensitive data processing to the cloud in a way that protects the security of local data using cryptographically secured, zero trust tunnels.


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The Best Minecraft Mods | Digital Trends

Since its release in 2011, more than 200 million copies of Minecraft have sold, and its continued popularity on YouTube and the new Minecraft: Education Edition will only add to that record-breaking number. Despite the high number of popular Minecraft clones, youngsters and veteran gamers alike keep coming back to the original, in part because of how easy it is to find Minecraft mods that add a fresh spin on a classic experience.

We’ve sifted through heaps of weird and silly mods to find the best UI improvements, visual filters, new gameplay mechanics, and cool ideas that will keep Minecraft from becoming stale. Some of our favorite CurseForge mods of the past no longer work with the 1.16 Nether Update, so we’re keeping our list updated with mods that you can still enjoy with the latest version of the game.

If you need help implementing the aforementioned mods, we’ve also put together a guide on how to properly install Minecraft mods, so you can spend less time scouring forums and more time schlepping blocks to the outer regions of Mars.

Further reading

The Essentials

Applied Energistics

Everyone is a bit of a hoarder in Minecraft, and Applied Energistics makes it easier than ever to become one. The ultra-convenient mod stores all of your items by turning them into energy, which is then stored on hard drives in your base. All of your items are wirelessly accessible from anywhere in your base, and the storage capabilities are virtually endless.


Just Enough Items

A screenshot of the Minecraft GUI with item icons appearing to the right of the main recipe interface.

Minecraft’s endless list of materials makes it difficult to remember why you need any of them. Just Enough Items enables you to hover over any item and check its uses or recipes, adding icons into the empty space right of the menu. Based on the now-defunct Not Enough Items mod, JEI includes the same text-based search bar to find any recipe and see what materials you have or still need. Also, check out the Just Enough Resources add-on for cool new additions like dungeon loot.



A crafting table logo.

Should you wish to attempt your own Minecraft modding, either for a custom server or your own modpack, CraftTweaker offers an excellent starting point. With it, you can alter properties in-game, such as swap recipe components or change what an item does — for example, make all food less effective for a survival-themed server where you must fight off starvation. You can even add your own new custom blocks and items. It requires scripting knowledge, so get ready to study its wiki.



A player looking at a pillar and the words "Waystone: The Mountain".

Ever forget your map at home, then go so far exploring that you can’t find where you left your home and the resources you spent dozens of hours collecting? Believe us, it’s incredibly frustrating, and this mod will prevent it from ever happening again. Craft waystones, place them around your world, then use a Warp Scroll or Warp Stone to return to where you’ve been. Or, in case you die and lose your stuff, simply add a button to your inventory that warps you anywhere, without an item.



A dimensional door standing on the beach.

Somewhat similar to the waystones are DimensionalDoors. These function similarly, but instead of going from place to place, they can lead into your own little pocket dimension. Basically, they just allow you to access an infinite amount of space to do with as you please. You can simply use it for storage, but they can also function like waystones without the scrolls or stones since each one can lead out another you place wherever you like.



A Minecraft mini-map showing coordinates, landmarks, and locations of nearby players.

If you want to remove any mystery and always know where you are, who else is around you, and what you’ll find in any given direction, you’ll need a map or compass in your UI. Since the superb Journeymap is stuck in 1.15, consider VoxelMap, which gives you a mini-map or full-screen map that displays everywhere you’ve explored, mirrored to look like whatever weird biomes and resource packs you’ve downloaded. You’ll also see icons of NPCs and waypoints to which you can teleport.


Nature’s Compass

A menu showing all of the potential nearby biomes, and an option to teleport to one.

Compasses that only point north are so basic. This modded compass will point toward any nearby biome you wish to visit. You right-click the compass in your inventory to open a menu of nearby environments, then select one to have a heading for your next quest. The Nature’s Compass mod can also detect modded biomes (which we’ll reference below), so you can seek out the weird and wacky worlds you just downloaded.



The minecraft controlling menu.

Once you’ve installed a bunch of mods, it can be hard to manage all the extra features — and keep track of how to use them. The Controlling mod is a straightforward addition to Minecraft that lets the user pull up a search bar to find actions and the key they are mapped to. Controlling keeps the game organized and is essential for anyone using dozens of mods.


Expand your world …

Biomes O’ Plenty

Looking at a giant blocky volcano in Minecraft.

Minecraft’s biomes can be fairly uniform and can become somewhat monotonous after spending hundreds of hours in the same forests, islands, and caves. Biomes O’ Plenty adds new environments and climates, from alps and volcanoes (above), to new forest types, groves, and tropics at ground level and crystalline chasms below. With new plants and blocks everywhere you go, your world will feel more like a world than ever before.


Pam’s HarvestCraft 2

An inventory full of unique crop icons.

Make sure your avatar eats all of its food groups, with this awesome series of mods adding around 50 fruit and nut trees, 75 crops, 120 foods to cook or make, and new tools like a skillet, juicer, bakeware, and more. Crops and trees spawn to spawn in specific biomes, rewarding you for exploring with new ingredients for fun recipes. Currently, only the Food Core mod works with 1.16, but these mods are regularly updated, and we expect the others to be overhauled soon.

Food Core (PC)
Trees (PC)
Crops (PC)


A "pickarang" flies back to the player with materials in the Quark Minecraft mod.

An unthemed collection of small improvements, Quark adds creatures and tools that, once you see them, you’ll wonder why Mojang hasn’t already added them. Our personal faves of the 120-plus new features? The throwable pickarang that breaks blocks and returns with materials; skittish stoneling fairies that spawn underground, can be tamed, and love when you feed them rocks; inventory sorting by categories; beautiful new brick types; and hidden, underground mega-dungeons.


Aquaculture 2

A player fishing in a lake.

Base-game fishing is purely functional and fairly limited: You can only catch four types of fish, as well as some items, and the rod cannot be customized. Aquaculture 2 adds more than 30 new fish found in different biomes, lets you customize your line and tackle, includes craftable hooks and bait for better catching chances, lets you cook your fish into fillets, and even adds special Neptunian armor. Try to catch ’em all!


Worley’s Caves/YUNG’s Better Caves

A deep and glowing chasm in Minecraft.

Most mods tend to customize biomes on the surface, but these two mods put great effort into giving the underground more character, so you spend less time mining just to find an open space. Worley’s Caves turns the underground into a customizable, endlessly generating maze of rooms, with mobs ready to jump out from every corner. YUNG’s Better Caves focuses more on different types of customizable environments, from poison lakes to flooded caverns, making each new area a treat to discover.

Worley’s Caves (PC)
YUNG’s Better Caves (PC)

The Endergetic Expansion

A magical purple forest in Minecraft's The End.

Taking a portal to the End isn’t a field trip; you’re there to fight off mobs and take on the Ender dragon, after which there isn’t much to see or do that’ll compel you to return. This new expansion changes that, adding new biomes, critters to tame, food, blocks, and even bosses.


Simply Jetpacks 2

A row of different colored jetpacks.

For a world as expansive as Minecraft, it only makes sense to use something as cool and efficient as a jetpack. Beyond the straightforward joy of soaring around without having to use Creative mode, the mod allows you to build different types of jetpacks with varying max speeds and armor ratings. Or, you can build a Fluxpack, chestplate armor that protects you and charges modded objects in your inventory that run off of Forge Energy.


Advanced Hook Launchers

A minecraft character uses a grappling hook to climb out of the underground.

If flying everywhere feels a bit broken, these grappling hooks will make traversing the world easier, but not too easy — and even add new combat mechanics. Craft a sticky web hook for climbing up or rappelling down tall structures, a pudge hook to snag enemies in multiplayer, or a spear hook that works for climbing but mainly serves as a powerful weapon for flying creatures like dragons.



The description of the avian class.

One of the more popular mods in recent years is the Origins mod, which adds some RPG flavor to your Minecraft experience. Now when you begin a game, you will choose a specific class for your character, with each one having a unique trait, as well as weaknesses, that can really spice up how you play. The Enderian lets you teleport as though you had Ender Pears, but take damage when you touch water, and the Avian can slow fall but has to sleep at high elevations and can’t eat any meat, to name just two.


… Or explore custom worlds


Mekanism is a mods collection that will boost your Minecraft system from traditional mining into a more modern industrial age. This option adds a robot companion, fusion reactors, atomic disassemblers, solar generators, and power networks to level up your engagement with the game. Additional mods will give you other technology that can help you build entire cities.

Mekanism (PC)
Mekanism Additions (PC)
Mekanism Generators (PC)
Mekanism Tools (PC)


A team of vampire hunters stand on the left and vampires on the right.

Vampirism adds a layer of gameplay to Minecraft that will let you become a vampire who can feed on the villagers in the game or help you be the hero with the sharpest stake that can take out all of the vampires that are stalking you. This comprehensive mod adds RPG-style skills for vampires and hunters.

This mod allows you to level up using vampire rituals and trick out your vampire lair with unique coffins and blood storage. Vampirism also has village biomes full of NPCs to protect or feed upon, vampire barons with mobs of baddies to fight, and a castle that may belong to Dracula himself.



A view some of the magical tools built in a field.

Botania is a natural magic tech mod built to sync naturally into what Minecraft modders call the “vanilla” game. Players must harvest 16 new Mystical Flowers to attain Mana. You can use the Mana you attain to beautify your world even further by creating even more beautiful flowers.

The goal is to harness your flowers’ power for automated magical generators that produce materials. You can do this by building in-world rather than using a custom UI.


Editors’ Choice

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What is Thunderbolt 5? | Digital Trends

Thunderbolt 4 technology is still relatively new, but Intel is already working on its successor: Thunderbolt 5 (or whatever Intel decides to call it). Although it’s not been officially announced by Intel, we do know it’s being developed and that it has the potential to be vastly superior to any other connector standard that exists today.

There’s not much yet, but here’s everything we know about Thunderbolt 5.


With Thunderbolt 4 being only about a year old, Thunderbolt 5 is not likely to be released until at least next year, or perhaps even longer. Thunderbolt 4 will see wider adoption with Alder Lake in 2021, with Thunderbolt 5 likely becoming more commonplace in future generations of processors.


According to some leaked images from a tour of an Intel facility earlier this year, Thunderbolt 5 will support up to 80Gbps throughput. This is double the bandwidth of the existing Thunderbolt 4 connection and vastly more than anything else available for data transfers.

Thunderbolt 5 is a huge step ahead of existing connectivity technology. Thunderbolt 4 was an upgrade from Thunderbolt 3 in terms of power and utility. However, it didn’t deliver a bandwidth increase over the maximum 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 offered. Hence, Thunderbolt 5, with its doubled output, brings a significant upgrade. Intel’s upcoming release will likely provide greater support for higher refresh rates of 4K and 8K monitors along with providing backward compatibility with older Thunderbolt and USB connections.


Thunderbolt 5 is expected to be based on novel PAM-3 modulation technology. That’s a novel method of transmitting bits along the cable.

Traditionally, NRZ (non-return-to-zero) encoding is used, which allows for a 0 or a 1, or a single bit, to be transmitted. Some connection options also make use of PAM -4 or Pulse Amplitude Modulation 4, which allows two bits to be transferred. The 4 is a demarcation of how many different variants of two bits could be seen (00, 01, 10, or 11). Thunderbolt 5 will make use of a 3-bit data signal, allowing it to reach a higher bandwidth than that achieved by the standard NRZ and PAM-4 implementations seen in current connectivity technologies.

A Thunderbolt 4 port on a laptop.


As leaked in the infamous tweet earlier this year, Intel is expected to continue using the same USB-C interface connector for Thunderbolt 5. That should mean that any existing USB-C and Thunderbolt devices can make use of the faster connector, though they won’t necessarily be able to take advantage of its speed.

Editors’ Choice

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AI Weekly: Can AI predict labor market trends?

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Perhaps more than any other part of the economy, the labor market is unpredictable. In June, U.S. weekly jobless claims increased unexpectedly even while layoffs eased, to offer one recent example. The challenges lie in accounting for anomalies like the pandemic, which caused the White House last year to cancel its summer 2020 release of updated economic projections. It’s particularly difficult to get a real-time handle on hiring versus firing, especially when layoffs are temporary.

But a company called ThinkWhy claims its labor market prediction platform, LaborIQ, can deliver superior accuracy by tapping AI. Leveraging a model created from 20-year time series datasets of labor information for U.S. cities, ThinkWhy says its system learns to identify key performance attributes specific to job roles, which are analyzed by economists and analysts to arrive at results for over 20,000 job titles across U.S. metros.

Whether AI can be used to accurately predict labor market trends, however, is an open question. As with all models, data issues can throw estimates off track, and biases can emerge from setting algorithms to learn from historical examples. Models are also limited to the bounds of an observed period, losing predictive power the further they attempt to glimpse into the future.

Biases and data challenges

ThinkWhy, which provides five-year job salary forecasts as well as supply and demand volatility metrics, says it mitigates bias by using a training set spanning data inclusive of gender, ethnicity, and age. The dataset is “double curated,” ensuring it doesn’t drop key features in the training set. The company also uses “blind” survey records to prevent the training data from producing predictions based on influencing variables, like the fact that women are underpaid in certain industries.

But Nik Dawson, a senior data scientist at FutureFit AI, a labor market intelligence firm, notes that data limitations can come in many flavors, such as representativeness, size, regularity of updates, and variety. For example, because the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses a random sample of households to arrive at its jobs numbers, it might obtain a bad draw that isn’t very representative of the population from which the sample was taken. Moreover, employers don’t always report accurate numbers, sometimes counting workers as being on the payroll even if their hours or pay were minimal.

“The social cachet of economic models — at least in policy circles — has been high for a good century now. [But] the mythos of AI, as somehow ‘beyond subjectivity and questioning,’ seems like it’s going to intensify the dependence on models and the authority of those who build them, which makes it more difficult to address problems they have,” University of Washington AI researcher Os Keyes told VentureBeat via email. “There will be problems, because … they need data, and if you talk to basically any economist about labor market modeling, you’ll hear that before even discussing the ‘best’ models in some ideal universe, the issue is what data can you actually access and what are those variables a proxy for? Models are very lossy … it’s still difficult to get a grasp of individual-level decision-making and less quantifiable factors in labor decisions.”

Dawson says the demand-side data fed into predictive models can come from real-time job ads, which reveal skills, education, experience levels, precise locations, and other factors employers are considering. But job ads require a lot of pre-processing using natural language processing (NLP) and even computer vision, so they’re not readily available. A broader range of sources populates the supply-side, including employment statistics, census collections, occupational surveys, household surveys, anonymized resumes, and online professional profiles. These aren’t without flaws either. Because of time constraints and other confounders, the Census Bureau regularly undercounts populations in certain regions of the country. Some studies show, for example, that the undercount for Black men is much higher than the net undercount rate for the total male population.

“The challenge with predicting anomalies is simply that they’re hard to predict! An anomaly is something that deviates from the norm. So, when you train machine learning models on historic data, the future predictions are a product of that past information,” Dawson said. “This is [especially] problematic when ‘black swan’ events occur, like COVID-19 … Supply-side data are important for understanding what’s actually going on with workers, but they’re lagging indicators — it takes time for the data to reflect the crises that have occurred.”

ThinkWhy says that it began testing its models against “new historical precedents” when the pandemic hit, as massive swings in the labor market took place. (In April, the U.S. unemployment rate rose to 14.7%, up from 10.3% in March — the largest over-the-month increase in history.) The company’s economists update parameters to reflect changes to conditions associated with market factors that affect salary and labor supply and demand.

“AI can assist in the predictive modeling but does not permit a ‘hands-off approach’ to the final outcomes,” ThinkWhy chief technology officer David Kramer told VentureBeat via email. “The ability for AI to process massive amounts of data and produce quantitative output reduces the probability of error and provides clarification of the key predictive characteristics that feed the final prediction sets. But AI has some very specific difficulties in intuition modeling that limits its ability to replace the human plus machine intelligence methodologies.”

Looking toward the future

As Dawson notes, the risks are high when it comes to bias in labor market predictions. In HR settings, prejudicial algorithms have informed hiring, career development, and recruitment decisions. There are ways to help address the imbalances — for example, by excluding sensitive information like race, gender, and sexual orientation from training datasets. But even this isn’t a silver bullet, as these characteristics can be inferred from a combination of other features.

Even Kramer admits it’ll be some time — he predicts 10 to 15 years — before some of the inherent limitations in machine learning can be overcome in the labor trends prediction domain. “The models and characteristics of deep learning that permit [it] to be used reliably have yet to be developed,” he said. “It will be several years before enough data and the cycle of ‘fail and fix’ in deep learning systems permit the replacement of humans.”

Dawson believes that, despite their flaws, AI models may be superior to traditional economic models, if only because they’re more sophisticated in their approach. Conventional models apply statistical techniques to economic theories, which works well for many tasks but can poorly represent economic activity. For example, many models assume people are rational, profit-maximizing agents seeking employment at the highest wage. While there’s a degree of truth in that assumption, people make employment decisions for a range of reasons, he points out, such as skills, values, location, and family situations.

“It’s in this high-dimensional complexity where I think AI can dramatically improve predictions and decision-making, especially in career planning,” Dawson said.

AI has already been applied with some success to the study of taxation. Last April, Salesforce released the AI Economist, a research environment for understanding how AI could improve economic design. Leveraging a system of rewards to spur software agents to identify tax policies, the AI Economist is a two-level, deep reinforcement learning framework that simulates how people might react to taxes. While each agent in the simulation earns money, an AI planner module learns to enact taxes and subsidies, ultimately promoting certain global objectives.

During experiments, Salesforce says the AI Economist arrived at a more equitable tax policy than a free-market baseline, the U.S. federal single-filer 2018 tax schedule, and a prominent tax framework called the Saez tax formula.

While a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Technology Sydney, Dawson himself demonstrated that AI could be — at least in theory — used to predict skill shortages in labor markets with reasonable accuracy. He and coauthors compiled a dataset of both labor demand and labor supply occupational data in Australia from 2012 to 2018, including data from 7.7 million job advertisements and 20 official labor force measures. They used the data as explanatory variables and employed a classifier to predict yearly skills shortages for 132 different occupations. The models were about 83% accurate when measured by their chosen metric, Dawson and colleagues claimed.

Dawson said he’s optimistic about what reinforcement learning might add to the mix of labor market predictions. Not only does it better reflect how job mobility actually occurs, but it also lessens the risks of bias and discrimination in job predictions because it’s less reliant on aggregated historic training data, he asserts.

“[Reinforcement learning is a] goal-oriented approach, where an agent (say, an individual looking for a job) navigates their environment (e.g. job market) and performs actions to achieve their goal (e.g. takes a course to upskill for a target career),” Dawson said. “As the agent interacts with their environment, they learn and adjust their actions to better achieve their goal; they also respond to an environment that dynamically adjusts (e.g. a labor market crisis). This approach balances ‘exploitation’ of an individual’s current state (e.g. recommending jobs strongly aligned with their skills and previous occupations) with ‘exploration’ of new paths that are different to an individual’s state (e.g. recommending jobs that are new career paths).”

For AI coverage, send news tips to Kyle Wiggers — and be sure to subscribe to the AI Weekly newsletter and bookmark our AI channel, The Machine.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle Wiggers

AI Staff Writer


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Execs from MasterCard, PayPal, and Goldman Sachs discuss major AI trends in the finance industry at Transform 2021

Join executive leaders at the Data, Analytics, & Intelligent Automation Summit, presented by Accenture. Register here.

The banking and financial services sector has typically lagged behind in AI adoption, but that’s starting to change. According to Insider Intelligence’s AI in Banking report, 80% of banks are highly aware of the potential benefits of AI. The aggregate potential cost savings for banks from AI applications has been estimated at $447 billion by 2023.

During a panel at this year’s Transform, Roey Mechrez, CTO and co-founder of BeyondMinds, spoke to Francesco Delle Fave, executive director in machine learning products at Goldman Sachs, Steve Flinter, VP of AI and machine learning at Mastercard Labs R&D, and Hui Wang, VP of data science, PayPal, about the major AI and machine learning news in the financial services industry.

In the old days there was often a 10- or 20-year lag in terms of wide adoption of a new technology, Wang said, but that gap is becoming smaller and smaller.

“The latest and greatest from academic research and the tech giants is being adopted in fintechs like PayPal within only one or two years,” Wang said. “We now have some of the most sophisticated real-time fraud detection models running on the most sophisticated deep learning architecture.”

Major AI trends in the financial industry

“AI and machine learning is being used in a broader array of applications than ever before, including security, fraud detection, identity, personalization, and even internal efficiency applications,” Flinter said.

There’s also been a shift away from a very model-centric view of the world into a more data-centric, data-driven view he said. Organizations are beginning to rethink how data is collected and used in the enterprise, and made AI- and ML-ready.

Another trend that’s growing among FIs is AI engineering, or MLOps, Flinter says. Organizations are shifting their focus to think about the full-life cycle of AI, from  the R&D side of AI and machine learning through to production: developing, testing, and iterating on new AI applications.

The fourth and final trend is ethical AI or explainable AI. It’s the focus on how bias can potentially lead to unintended outcomes for consumers when deploying these financial models, particularly in lights-off or black-box scenarios.

“At PayPal, we’ve been using AI for fraud detection for almost as long as we’ve been here,” Wang. “But in the last few years, it’s on almost all fronts of our business in terms of empowering a better experience for our customers.”

In investment banking, the main objective is to serve clients, said Delle Fave. “As data becomes more available, as services become systematized, AI is permeating everything we do.”

AI and machine learning is enabling personalization, improving data analysis, allowing companies to be more rigorous in the way they interpret signals, information, and noise to develop more sophisticated trading strategies, and helping them design and build new products.

Adoption challenges

But there are challenges to massively adopting AI across an organization with many different use cases, Mechrez said, and surveys have shown many companies fail to shift new machine learning models to production. Data readiness is often the problem.

“We have come from an era of data being managed for transactional processing purposes, and then through data analytics, and now we’re having to rethink how we manage data for ML purposes,” Flinter said. “That means rethinking our data architectures, looking at things like data streaming and so on. A lot of the back-end infrastructure needs to be rethought and redesigned to enable ML at scale.”

On the product side of things, many banking and financial services companies lack real understanding as to what AI or ML can actually do.

“In some cases, it’s been my experience that some product teams think it’s flying rockets, flying cars, and it will solve every available problem and you can squeeze anything out of a small amount of data,” he said.

The solution is more education around what is truly possible and managing expectations as teams try to design AI and ML into product stacks.

“But even if we have the best model running live and generating great predictions, so what?” Wang said. “What do we do with them? If we can predict perfectly that a merchant is going to churn out tomorrow as an example, what do we do with that?”

That’s called the last-mile challenge in adopting AI: a prediction that doesn’t lead to action doesn’t do a company any good. How can a company go from the machine learning model to a product or experience that improves the customer’s life or helps the company?

At Goldman Sachs, the first step is discussing the problem with their client, so the client knows exactly what problem they’re trying to solve and how they’re applying AI to solve it, Delle Fave said.

“The objective is first to demonstrate value to the client,” he said. “Then, once this is done and the client understands, you start simple and incrementally build and add layers of complexity to potentially improve effectiveness, efficiency, or speed depending on the requirements we have, always interrupting constantly with the client so that they understand the way we’re building it.”

Your model doesn’t even need to be particularly sophisticated or fancy, Flinter said.

“The idea is you need to find the most simple and explainable thing that’s going to bring value to your customer,” he explained. “There are a lot of tools already available that allow you to do that.”

Human expertise isn’t going away

Sometimes you still need to pull a human into the loop to build the most effective AI solution, Wang said. PayPal uses a story-based product methodology, which is about the interaction between the human and the machine, embracing the interdependency of human and machine in an iterative process to get the best outcomes.

“I like to say that our AI solution is like ingredients we cook into a dish,” Wang said. “The algorithm can help us by explaining the number of ingredients we need to cook the best dish, but what if we’re missing the most critical ingredients? That’s where our human experts come in with their domain expertise.”

Fraud detection, one of the most important applications for AI in financial services, also requires a human in the loop, making decisions informed by data. In very low-latency,  high-frequency types of decisions, humans are there to oversee the applications and the algorithms, to see if there are drifts in the models, if the models are picking up anomalies correctly.

“It’s that kind of long-term monitoring of models that we need to think about in security applications so we can ensure that they’re performing as we expect them to perform while making automated decisions,” Flinter said.


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Tech News

The Future of Mobility: 5 Transportation Trends to Watch

The way we move about is changing — and not just because, as the coronavirus pandemic recedes, we’re able to actually move about again. Transportation is changing around the world, thanks to new breakthrough technologies that promise to revolutionize the way we travel.

Whether it’s planes, trains, or automobiles, here are some of the key trends shaping the present — and future — of transport as we know it.

Autonomous vehicles

When you talk about the future of mobility, no piece of technology better sums up expectations than autonomous vehicles. Dismissed by experts as an impossibility less than two decades ago, self-driving cars have today driven tens of millions of miles, much of it on public roads. Big players in this space are split between tech companies like Alphabet (through its Waymo division) and China’s Baidu and traditional automotive companies like General Motors and BMW. Some firms, like Tesla, are a blend of the two.

Fully autonomous self-driving cars are still not for sale, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that interest or research has cooled off. Self-driving vehicles are a challenge for a number of reasons: Technologically, in terms of social acceptance, and from a regulatory perspective. While some evangelists who thought these problems would have been solved by now are having to revise their optimism, things are clearly headed in the right direction — even if there have certainly been some setbacks along the way.

It’s all about electrification

Rising customer demand and increased government emphasis and regulation have meant electrification has gained considerable momentum over the past few years. Don’t expect that to slow down, either. According to the World Economic Forum, electric car registrations increased 41% in 2020 despite a 16% decline in overall car sales across the world. The ramping up of EVs can be seen in the United States, Europe, and China, the three biggest car markets globally — with China remaining the leading EV market.

An electric vehicle plugged into a garage outlet.

In a world increasingly focused on sustainability, mass adoption of electric vehicles could potentially cut emissions around the world by more than one third by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). In total, there are more than 11 million electric vehicles registered on the road, roughly equivalent to the populations of New York and Los Angeles combined.

With countries including Sweden and Israel testing custom roads that charge vehicles’ batteries as they drive over them, the process of charging electric vehicles should get easier, too. That would be a major bottleneck solved.

In-car technologies

A.I. is making the way cars get around smarter, but so too is the in-car experience changing. And not just because the dashboard now increasingly features gorgeous Tesla-style tablets. Affective computing company Affectiva is one of several companies working on in-cabin sensing to analyze what is happening inside the vehicle. That could mean using cameras and sensors to detect when a driver is tired or distracted, alerting if a child is left behind, or simply analyzing who is in the car and offering up personalized entertainment accordingly.

Mockup of how augmented reality in a car might look.

Meanwhile, companies like Envisics are building headset-free, in-car holography systems that can give drivers augmented reality HUD tech on their windshield that compares to the technology usually found in fighter jets or commercial aircraft. Innovations such as this can provide contextual information about the road during journeys.

A recent crowdsourced, lidar-based research project adds another twist on this by promising to give every car on the road X-ray vision. Until fully autonomous cars are widespread (and, even then, for entertainment reasons) this technology will help define the future of road vehicles. Not that every vehicle is to be found on the road, of course.

Flying cars

Flying cars have been promised for decades — to the point that their mythical status was the subject of an hilarious (and, language-wise, NSFW) short film by Clerks director Kevin Smith. But here in 2021, they’re certainly not quite as science fiction as they once were.

A drone-based flying taxi in midair.

The New York Times has likened the rise (no pun intended) of flying car startups to the trajectory of autonomous vehicles, “from the enormous ambition to the multi-billion-dollar investments to the cutthroat corporate competition, including a high-profile lawsuit alleging intellectual property theft. It also recreates the enormous hype.” This hype, and some impressive technological advances, mean that they’re now raking in no shortage of capital from enthusiastic investors.

Bloomberg recently reported on how “airlines plan to plow billions into flying taxis.” For a glimpse at some of the big names and most exciting projects in this space, check out our roundup here.

Other futuristic forms of transport

It’s not just private forms of transport that are experiencing a revolution right now. Shared forms of mass transportation are also undergoing a shakeup — whether it’s the next generation of supersonic jet, giant 40-seat drone buses, or even Elon Musk’s bold claim that Space X’s Starship could shuttle passengers between any two cities on the planet in less than an hour.

Editors’ Choice

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The Best Single-Player Games | Digital Trends

Even with an impressive field of co-op games and a growing list of cross-platform games on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox, we are in the golden age of multiplayer gaming. But in-depth single-player adventures are still at the core of what makes gaming great. Whether you’re looking to dive into a glorious open-world alone or just need something to hold you over until your friends are back online, we’ve put together a list of the best solo games that will keep you locked in for a long adventure.

From demonic, space-age shooters to slower-paced fantasy RPGs, these are some of our favorite single-player games to check out right now.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC)

The Witcher 3 drops players into the boots of Geralt of Rivia, a gruff monster bounty hunter on a mission to track down his companions and prepare for a battle against the Wild Hunt — a troop of wraiths on undead horses hell-bent on enslaving the human race. To make a bit of coin while exploring the world, Geralt can pick up bounties to take out less world-ending creatures, hunting down werewolves, griffins, ghouls, and other deadly foes terrorizing the common-folk.

With an arsenal of weapons, a growing collection of abilities and magic, and a trusted steed named Roach, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt offers an estimated 100-plus hours of gameplay with all side quests included. Whether you’re jumping into the Witcher universe after binging the Netflix series or have played previous installments in the franchise, it’s a stunning fantasy adventure that will draw you in from the jump. It’s also a refreshing play if you felt a bit burned by Cyberpunk 2077 and want to revisit the glory days of CPDR’s RGP heights

Read our full The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt review

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch, Wii U)

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Hyrule’s iconic hero is back and Princess Zelda needs rescuing again in the latest installment of Nintendo’s long-running flagship. All the classic elements of a Legend of Zelda game are still here — challenging puzzles, rupee farming, and duels both small and massive — but Breath of the Wild introduces new elements that make it the best Zelda game in the series to date and one of the best Switch games outright. The combat is more difficult than previous games, for instance, and Link must use a variety of weapons (that also degrade over time) to fend off foes in an environment that is often a detriment to the adventure. Needless to say, crafting potions and tools is a must.

Fans of prior installments of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wildwill be excited to dive into Nintendo’s reimagined world, but, thankfully, newcomers to the series can jump aboard and learn the ropes in no time. The great news is that Nintendo already has a follow-up in development, but we likely won’t get our hands on it for a while.

Read our full The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review

Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

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One of the best PS4 games to play right now, Marvel’s Spider-Man gives players the chance to explore New York City through the eyes of the world’s favorite web-slinging superhero. Swing through an incredibly detailed open-world take on NYC while on the lookout for muggers, storefront robbers, and high-speed car thefts, dropping down to save the day with some strategic webbing and acrobatic smackdowns. And don’t worry: There are a handful of bigger-tier villains to fight on this superhero game, meaning you won’t just be dealing with petty crime.

Fighting crime is only part of Marvel’s Spider-Man, however. There are also challenges that pop up throughout the city to help hone Spidey’s specific set of skills, and simply exploring Manhattan and taking photos of the sights is a blast when you need a break from playing police officer. You can look forward to the follow-up, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which will release for PS5 later this year.

Read our full Marvel’s Spider-Man review

Doom Eternal (Switch, Ps4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC)

In Doom Eternal, Earth is completely overrun by demons, and only the Doom Slayer can save the planet from complete, hellish destruction. The game offers a smooth, fast-paced demon-blasting experience with a heavy arsenal at hand — you can take out evil with rocket launchers, plasma rifles, advanced shotguns, and chainsaws, among other tools. Doom Eternal is a bigger, better version of the 2016 reboot, also from Id Software.

While Doom Eternal delivers the classic marathon carnage of past installments, it also includes some interesting exposition and background that users can dive into between brutal, end-0f-the world gunfights, giving you a chance to learn more about the Slayer and the creatures dead set on destroying humanity.

Read the full Doom Eternal review

Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC)

Sharpshooter Arthur Morgan might not be a lone ranger, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the best solitary games to be had right now. Whether you stick to story-driven quests as Arthur and the Van der Linde gang avoid the law, casually explore the massive open-world environment to hunt for rare animal pelts and fish, or go full-scoundrel and cause chaos shooting up local saloons, this immersive world will pull you into the Old West one way or another.

Red Dead Redemption 2 remains one of the best open-world experience on the market, so it’s worth diving into even if the 1899 cops-and-robbers setting isn’t usually up your alley. Although fans are still waiting for DLC content while the game’s online multiplayer mode gets attention — and the PC release was a bit shaky — it’s still hard to beat.

Read the full Red Dead Redemption 2 review

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

While Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order doesn’t offer much in terms of a fresh take on the Star Wars universe, fans of the ongoing laser-fueled battle between the dark side and the light will be happy with this action-adventure journey. Fallen Order takes place between the prequel and original Star Wars film trilogies, aka after the mass execution of Jedi but before Luke Skywalker ever picks up a lightsaber. You play as Cal Kestis, a force-sensitive scrapper in hiding who picks up his Jedi training once the Sith start hunting force-sensitive children.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order combines elements from many previous Star Wars games and does so well. Don’t expect anything outside of the norm, but hey, hacking, and slashing through Empirical troops with a lightsaber and throwing baddies around with Force abilities never gets old. There’s even reportedly a sequel in the works.

Read the full Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order review

The Outer Worlds (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC)

best single player games outer worlds

A Fallout-Borderlands hybrid, Obsidian’s space-age RPG was in the running for plenty of best-of awards in 2019. The Outer Worlds is a light-hearted, choose-your-own-path adventure full of oddball creatures to battle, futuristic quests that force players into moral quandaries, and, like any RPG, a ragtag group of misfit companions to choose from. While combat is a big component of the game, the story is plot-heavy, requiring you to scavenge supplies and chat with NPCs instead of always gunning down challenging adversaries.

Your companions have their own stories that are fun to get into, too, and the environment and creature design will leave you ignoring side quests to gaze at the planetary landscapes. The Outer Worlds is a perfect RPG for someone who wants to get into some space adventures but doesn’t want tackle Deathclaws or gun down waves of enemies, a la Borderlands. It’s a simple game to get started in, with a story-driven DLC set to be released sometime in 2020.

Death Stranding (PS4, PC)

Death Stranding

Death Stranding is the latest game from Hideo Kojima, the visionary behind the Metal Gear Solid franchise. The game is set in the United States during the aftermath of a cataclysmic event known as, well, “the Death Stranding,” which allowed destructive creatures from a realm between life and death to begin roaming the Earth. You play as Sam Porter Bridges, a courier tasked with delivering supplies to and connecting the scattered human colonies that remain.

While the gameplay maybe be slow for some — Bridges does a lot of trudging around beautiful but repetitive terrain to make deliveries, making the game an advanced hiking simulator — it remains a narrative masterpiece that has been lauded for its commentary on America’s political divide and the way it handles a post-environmental disaster.

Death Stranding  is PS4 exclusive for now, but is set to be released for PC gamers this summer.

Read the full Death Stranding review

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Sekiro easy mode mod FromSoftware Souls games gameplay difficulty

Sekiro may look like a hack-and-slash samurai thriller on the outside, but its absolutely brutal combat system makes it one the most challenging single-player adventures out there. Set in Sengoku-era Japan, Sekiro puts you in control of the One-armed Wolf, a fallen warrior resurrected by a supernatural force and dead set on vengeance. While powerful bosses like the Guardian Ape and the Demon of Hatred certainly put players through the wringer and will take multiple attempts to take down, no enemy in the game can be taken lightly. A simple miscalculation and taking an extra blow can mean sudden death for the Wold, even from common creatures.

Not for the easily frustrated gamer, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a tough game to get through and doesn’t have a difficulty slider to help anyone out — that’s actually sparked a lot of debate concerning accessibility for the game. But armed with some serious strategy and with enough practice, all the big fights in the game feel so much sweeter to win once you finally finish them.

Read the full Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review

Fallout 4 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

Fallout 4

If Fallout 4 wasn’t packed with content when it launched in 2015, a handful of DLCs, numerous add-on packages, and an abundance of third-party mods have fleshed out the experience since, making for some serious gameplay and multiple playthroughs. After the protagonist escapes from a cryogenic sleep following a nuclear blast, they explore the post-apocalyptic Commonwealth in search of their infant son, fighting super mutants, deathclaws, raiders, and all sorts of other edgy dangers along the way. The game’s DLCs have you explore the dark and stormy island of Far Harbor, a Nuka-Cola-themed amusement park, and give you the means to create your own robot combat companion. You can also hole up with your own band of survivors and work on building a settlement for your people and gather the best Fallout 4 weapons to survive.

Fallout 4 still makes for a phenomenal, in-depth playthrough, one that pairs nicely alongside Bethesda’s newer online offering, Fallout 76.

Read the full Fallout 4 review

The Last of Us Part II

The recent release of The Last of Us Part II has captivated a large portion of gamers, delivering an incredible story, memorable characters, and gameplay that feels evolved from its predecessor. When it comes to single-player adventures, not many studios do what Naughty Dog does — the team has come a long way since its Crash Bandicoot days.

Narrative is The Last of Us Part II‘s focus, and it tells the tale of revenge, intertwining its story from the points of view of two characters. While its narrative seemed to cause some controversy among fans and critics, you can’t deny the high level of quality put forth by Naughty Dog and Sony.

The Last of Us Part II is tough to get into the nitty-gritty of what makes this game so special without spoiling its story, but just know that it’ll be hard to put down after things get going. It’ll likely be in the running this year for Game of the Year, so we’ll have to see how games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Ghost of Tsushima stack up against it.

Read the full The Last of Us Part II review

Ghost of Tsushima

Ghosts of Tsushima
Kaitlyn Red Wing

The PS4’s last major first-party game sent the system off with a bang, thanks to Sucker Punch’s latest single-player adventure, Ghost of Tsushima. Critics and players fell in love with its open world, deep combat, and absolutely stunning visuals. Ghost of Tsushima is a major departure for Sucker Punch, as the developer had previously spent the better part of a decade working on the inFAMOUS games — but it’s a welcome change of pace. In it, you play as a samurai who is tasked with saving his home of Tsushima Island.

In Ghost of Tsushima, there’s no shortage of things to do, from going around the map to find collectibles, to clearing out enemy bases (sort of like Far Cry), and even spending hours in its robust photo mode. Its combat can be a little daunting at first, but after a few hours you should get the hang of it — and when you do, you’ll feel like an unstoppable warrior, capable of taking anyone out. It does a lot of things we’ve seen before, but also features some new surprises and free multiplayer content, so this is not one to miss.

Read the full Ghost of Tsushima review

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake Cloud

What Square Enix was able to accomplish with Final Fantasy VII Remake is nothing short of impressive. The way it effectively blends its foundational source material with new mechanics to make it feel modern has set a benchmark for how remakes should be handled going forward. It features a unique combat system that combines real-time action with a simple menu-based system that makes it feel like an evolution of the 1997 original.

You can easily spend 40 hours in this game, though it’s a lot more linear than many games on this list. This is great for those who want to focus on the game’s story and characters, without having to worry about traversing a huge open world. There’s a time and place for that, but linearity works tremendously in this game’s favor. In short, this is a remake that works better than you might expect. And while it does have some shortcomings, it’s overall one of the PS4’s best single-player games. Better yet, we have more Final Fantasy VII Remake to look forward to, as part 2 (or whatever it will be called, officially) is in the works as we speak. You can also go back and play some of the best Final Fantasy games from the past if you’re so inclined.

Read the full Final Fantasy VII Remake review

Resident Evil Village

Taking place directly after Resident Evil 7, Village (you don’t need to play previous RE games to enjoy it) takes things for a nearly medieval turn, invoking werewolves and vampires along with its usual forrays into genetic abominations. Village is a showcase about how much the developers have learned about making a really, really good Resident Evil game over the years. It does a particularly good job of capturing that atmospheric horror that has always been a standout in RE games — without going too scary or too guns blazing.

The plot also benefits from focusing on the terrible secrets and varying bosses of the titular village, giving you some clear goals as you go — and often embracing the ridiculous aspects that long-time fans will remember from older games. And if you show up just for Lady Dimitrescue, well, she certainly plays a role, but the game is much larger than even her.

Read the full Resident Evil Village review


Roguelike games have been working to find attractive, mainstream identities for years now, with varying amounts of success. Returnal is an example of just how successful they can be for single-player modes, and one of the few current games that really benefits from a new console upgrade.

The problem is that it’s difficult to talk too much about Returnal‘s story or bosses without spoiling things. You play a character using guns and gadgets (it’s primarily a shooter when it comes to controls) to traverse a beautiful — and creepy — alien world filled with dangers, and you quickly discover that every time you die, you are returned to the same time and place to do things again. Play over and over to discover the game’s fiendish bosses, and attempt to beat them all while discovering clues about this mesmerizing game. Patience is required … but the effort is certainly worth it.

Read the full Returnal review

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

The AC games have become excellent sandboxes to explore specific times and places — and then do pretty much whatever you want. Valhalla is the latest and perhaps boldest effort along these lines, a stunning, rich Nordic world to explore as you carve out a destiny for yourself and your people. More than ever, the game is packed with interesting activities and even more interesting ways to hack, slice, and dispatch your enemies with violent skill.

With something new always around the corner and a very free style of play that encourages exploration instead of linear story paths, Vahalla is an excellent choice for any fan of single-players, and you really don’t need to worry if you haven’t played any Assassin’s Creed games before. The only downside is that it’s such a broad work it can barely be called an AC game at all, and a lot of the famed stealth gameplay isn’t even available here.

Read the full Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla review

Editors’ Choice

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The Best iMac Accessories | Digital Trends

As with any Apple product, you get what you pay for — which is the bare minimum. But that doesn’t stop us from buying their products, nor does it take away from the need to have a complete and efficient workstation.

The right accessories will take your iMac and home office space to the next level. There are tons of things you didn’t know you needed — until now. Check out our list to find out what you’re missing.

The best iMac accessories

Satechi USB-C Clamp Hub

This excellent Satechi hub is designed to clamp to the underside of your iMac so you have all the handy connections you need without taking up any additional desk space. It is specifically made to work with Thunderbolt 3 and includes USB-C, three USB-A 3.0 ports, and SD and microSD card readers. Plus, the design is made to match your iMac’s style with an aluminum finish (available in space gray and silver).

If you’ve been annoyed by how hard the back-panel ports are to reach on your iMac, these solutions fix that problem and much more, making it an easy recommendation for anyone who uses their iMac frequently.

Apple Magic Keyboard

Apple iMac with Retina 5K Display review keyboard and mouse
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

There are a lot of great keyboards out there, but one of the best options for Macs is still Apple’s own Magic Keyboard. Not only does the Magic Keyboard naturally tie in the aesthetics of a Mac setup, but it’s overall one of the best typing experiences you can get in a Bluetooth keyboard. Plus, the Magic Keyboard has macro keys built just for MacOS, and the upcoming models even have a Spotlight key and TouchID built-in. Plus, they come in different colors to match the new iMacs.

There are two real options when it comes to the Magic Keyboard: You can get a standard compact version or you can get a larger version with ten-key number pad. The standard 78-key version should be fine for most people, but the number pad can be handy for frequent Excel users.

Apple Magic Trackpad 2

Apple Magic Trackpad 2

The Magic Mouse’s shape means it’s not to everyone’s taste. The Magic Trackpad 2, however, is excellent. It’s an immense improvement on the original Trackpad, coming with a slimmer design, more durability, a larger surface area, and better sensors. It’s a must-have if you’re familiar with MacBooks.

You can quickly set up this trackpad to work well with the iMac’s large screen at a speed and responsiveness that works for you. This trackpad is a great solution for those who want to avoid some of the wrist problems associated with mice — or if you simply prefer using gestures in MacOS.

Twelve South MagicBridge

Twelve South MagicBridge Keyboard Trackpad Combo

There are a lot of keyboards you can choose that have great features and Mac compatibility. However, if you already have Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad and want to take them to the next level, this clever little tray is perfect. It allows you to connect Apple’s Magic Trackpads (more on these below) to either the right or the left of the Apple Magic Keyboard in a seamless arrangement.

As long as you have both accessories, you can connect them so they work together effortlessly. It’s a great accessory if you like to hold your keyboard in your lap or just keep your desk setup a bit cleaner.

Logitech MX Master 3 Wireless Mouse

On the other hand, some users absolutely require a mouse for their computer activities. While there are a lot of great mice out there to choose from, this Logitech model is top-notch. It has a comfortable ergonomic design and a rechargeable battery that can last up to 70 days on a single charge. The light grey version pairs particularly well with an iMac setup.

The auto-shift scrolling wheel also makes high-speed scrolling and maneuvering a breeze. The mouse is designed to work on any surface, including glass, so a mousepad isn’t absolutely required. If you work on multiple computers at once, you can program the mouse to work between them interchangeably, too. As we said in our review, it’s a “near-perfect” mouse.

Satechi Aluminum Monitor Stand Hub

Satechi Aluminum Monitor Stand Hub

The iMac doesn’t really have any adjustment options when it comes to things like height. If you want you iMac to be higher for better visibility, you need to get a stand to put it on. Out of all the stands out there, we particularly like the Satechi model. It’s a beautiful aluminum design that matches the iMac, and it includes ingenious front-facing ports built right in, so it can also function as your hub.

This model includes an audio jack, USB 3.0 port, USB-C port, and an SD/Micro SD port on the stand. A USB adapter is included if you need to use older USB devices.

Twelve South iMac Stand

Twelve South iMac Stand

If you’re looking for something a little more unique, Twelve South also has an excellent iMac stand that includes a cubbyhole for built-in storage. Once the stand is attached, you can pop open the front panel to find two small shelves for storage — ideal for wallets, phones, AirPods, or anything else you want to keep near but out of the way. You can even run a USB hub from the back of the iMac through the back of the stand. This means you can have quicker access to ports without having a mess of cords on your desk.

The encapsulating stand is also adjustable, allowing you to raise your iMac up to four inches if necessary. You can choose between walnut or gunmetal for the framework.

Vivo Adapter VESA Mount Kit

Vivo Adapter VESA Mount Kit

Newer versions of the iMac are generally easier to mount to walls than old versions. However, this particular Vivo VESA mount comes with an adapter kit that means you can use it for an iMac model between late 2009 and current versions, which should cover just about everyone.

If you are in a situation where you really need your iMac mounted on a wall rather than freestanding, this is your best option. Everything you need for mounting is included, and the steel hardware is designed specifically for the iMac.

Western Digital 6TB My Book External Hard Drive

Western Digital 6TB My Book External Hard Drive

If you need an external hard drive specifically for your iMac, you probably need some serious and reliable storage. This 6TB WD drive is a perfect fit. It includes both Western Digital Backup software and compatibility with Time Machine to make sure your data stays safe.

Password protection that includes hardware-based encryption is included for an extra level of security as well. While the drive is designed to work with USB 3.0, it can also accommodate USB 2.0 connections if necessary. If your professional content ends up needing even more room, you can get the same drive model at up to 20GB, although this will raise the price as well.

Logitech Z623 2.1 Speaker System

Logitech Z623 2

Your iMac also deserves some great sound. While iMacs have decent speakers themselves, you may need some backup if you really want to jam out at your desk.

If you are shopping for a new speaker system for your computer, this Logitech model gives remarkable sound for its price, thanks to the THX-certified 2.1 speaker system that includes a hefty subwoofer (designed for placement under your desk, preferably). The speakers offer 200 watts RMS/400 watts peak performance. There are also RCA and 3.5mm inputs for connecting other devices.

Apple AirPods Pro

Everyone typically thinks of AirPods Pro for their iPhone or iPad, but they’re also great for the Mac as well. Their active noise cancelling helps tune out the general noise of the office or any children or pets if you work from home. Pairing is also simple and painless, as it is with all other Apple devices. You can even switch between active noise cancelling and Transparency mode right from the Mac. Just tap on the AirPods icon in you taskbar and switch to the mode you prefer. If you’re in the market for new earbuds, it doesn’t get any better than Apple’s own.

Twelve South Hidden Shelf “Backpack” for iMac

Twelve South Hidden Shelf Backpack for iMac

If your iMac enjoys an open desk arrangement, you may be looking for some extra storage space. This little mount attaches to the back of your iMac to create a small shelf back there. It is ideal storage for external hard drives, wireless charging pads, MacBook or iPhone charging, and so on. The shelf can hold up to 3.5 pounds.

Yilador Webcam Cover Pack

Hackers have found webcam attacks to be lucrative if they can take remote control of the webcam, turn it on, and record the unwary (or at least threaten to). The easiest and best way to prevent these attacks is with a simple webcam cover. Webcam covers on MacBooks can be tricky because they may interfere with how the MacBook closes and could even damage the screen, but fortunately, iMacs don’t have that problem. That’s why these Yilador webcam covers are such a great purchase. They offer affordable protection, and can easily slide back and forth depending on when you’re using your webcam.

Loupedeck+ Photo and Video Editing Console

Photo and video editors will love this Mac-friendly console, which is designed to work with Lightroom, Final Cut, Photoshop, and similar programs for unparalleled precision and lots of ways to save time — or even control two editing functions at once to make sure their combined effect is perfect. Nearly everything on the console can be customized to just the way you want it, too, perfect for professionals working on their own iMacs.

Blackmagic eGPU

iMacs aren’t exactly easy to upgrade in any way, but this external GPU is an alternative solution for those looking for a huge graphics boost. It’s a powerful Radeon Pro 580 graphics card with 8GB of GDDR5 memory. The unit includes two Thunderbolt 3 ports, four USB 3 ports, and an HDMI port to support a variety of configurations. It’s also portable enough to easily switch to a MacBook if necessary!

PU Leather Lager Desk Pad Protector

Protect your entire iMac desk space with this affordable cover that also doubles as a handy mousepad. It’s designed to resist spills and be easy to clean if a mess happens. You can also pick which side you like best — a nonslip surface with a bit of a grip or a smoother waterproof surface with extra protection.

iMac Kuzy Monitor Cover

If you depend on that beautiful iMac screen for your professional work, then it’s important to keep it protected even when you aren’t using it — especially if it’s not exactly safe from spills or damage at home.

This Kuzy monitor jacket is specifically designed to secure your iMac, so you don’t have to stress about its safety when you’re not using it. The cover blankets the front and edges of the computer with a thin, smooth fabric. This material is not only machine washable but also prevents the accumulation of dust, protects against sunlight, moisture, oily fingerprints, scratches and dents, and other common issues. It’s also easy to put on and take off, taking only a matter of seconds each time. 

Gator Cases Creative Pro Tote Bag

Gator Cases Creative Pro Tote Bag

There may come a time when you need to uproot your iMac and transfer it to a new location. This can be a scary and inconvenient situation, and although it’s usually not anyone’s objective to lug around a giant iMac, it’s probably going to happen at some point. When it’s time to transport your iMac, you’ll want a special tote bag like this one, which features adjustable (and comfortable) padded nylon and a foam cradle to protect the computer. It also provides a sturdy panel in the front of the bag to offer additional security for your screen. 

This waterproof bag has a solid PVC base on the bottom and rubber prongs that keep your iMac off the ground, saving it from a variety of potential damages. We view this tote bag as the most secure transport bag available today.

Editors’ Choice

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