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One way to stand out from the masses, as they hold identical, slab-like smartphones made of glass and metal, is to stick a robotic index finger to the bottom of your phone.

What's going on: Researchers are always looking for new ways of interacting with the machines we surround ourselves with. Some are useful, like pressure-sensitive styluses for digital illustration. Others are, well, creepy.

The finger idea comes from a team of Parisian researchers, who will present their research at a conference later this month.

  • The appendage, MobiLimb, is meant to improve on the "static, passive, motionless" character of today's mobile devices, according to the authors’ paper.
  • MobiLimb can complement what’s happening on the smartphone screen, for example by wiggling when a notification comes in, or by stroking the user’s hand or wrist when he or she receives a smiley emoji from a friend.
  • It can even claw at the table to move itself, and the attached smartphone, around.

Something about the digit — particularly when it’s covered in realistic-looking human skin — is profoundly unsettling.

  • It may be stuck in the "uncanny valley," a concept used to describe revulsion at things that look almost human — but not quite.
  • The finger’s weird motions — viewable in this video from the authors — reminded me of a snake-like charger that Tesla previewed in 2015, which drew horrified reactions.
  • It’s not entirely clear whether the phone finger is a serious proposal, an academic thought experiment, or an elaborate joke.

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Kaine, Collins pitch Senate colleagues on censuring Trump

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks with Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring former President Trump, three sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction in his second impeachment.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Anthony Coley to lead Justice Department public affairs

Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, has tapped Anthony Coley, an Obama-era Treasury Department official, to serve as a senior adviser and to lead public affairs at the Department of Justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: As the public face of the DOJ, Coley will help explain — and defend — the department's actions, from sensitive cases to prosecutorial decisions, including the investigation into Hunter Biden.

AP: Justice Dept. rescinds "zero tolerance" policy

A young girl waves to onlookers through the fence at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Ysidro, California, in Nov. 2018. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a memo on Tuesday to revoke the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which separated thousands of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AP first reported.

Driving the news: A recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz emphasized the internal chaos at the agency over the implementation of the policy, which resulted in 545 parents separated from their children as of October 2020.