Sales of smart speakers are soaring despite some people's concerns over privacy, with Amazon's Alexa leading the charge into homes in various Echo devices and Google's Home and Assistant snapping at its heels. They come in various shapes, sizes and prices, but if you just want to dip your toe into the burgeoning voice-powered world, what's the cheapest way to get Alexa or Google Assistant into your home? Voice assistants don't actually need a dedicated speaker to work. If you have a modern smartphone chances are you either already have Google Assistant, if you have an Android phone, or can install the app on an iPhone. The same goes for Amazon's Alexa, which can even be set as the default voice assistant on an Android phone.
If you use a smart speaker, you know all of the conveniences and delights that make it more than just a glorified paper weight. But, admit it, you've probably given it some privacy side-eye from time to time. After all, it is a microphone that just sits in your house waiting for a wake word to start recording what you say. Here's how to tighten the reins on what Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri can hear, when, and how it gets used. It's a good time to take stock.
In the elegant quiet of the café at the Church of Sweden, a narrow Gothic-style building in Midtown Manhattan, Daniel Cohen is taking a break from explaining genetics. He moves toward the creaky piano positioned near the front door, sits down, and plays a flowing, flawless rendition of "Over the Rainbow." If human biology is the scientific equivalent of a complicated score, Cohen has learned how to navigate it like a virtuoso. Cohen was the driving force behind Généthon, the French laboratory that in December 1993 produced the first-ever "map" of the human genome. He essentially introduced Big Data and automation to the study of genomics, as he and his team demonstrated for the first time that it was possible to use super-fast computing to speed up the processing of DNA samples.
Walt Disney World recently showed the Associated Press what it takes to put their shows together. It's a shift for a resort that hasn't allowed many peeks behind the curtains of the fantasy it creates. Maybe romantic Disney fairy tales come true after all. Data from the popular global online dating site Plenty of Fish reveals that singles who have expressed an interest in Disney are 3.6 times more likely to leave the app in a relationship compared to singles who more generally list interests in music and movies. That was certainly true for Disney fan Abby Schiller.
When Amazon customers speak to Alexa, the company's AI-powered voice assistant, they may be heard by more people than they expect, according to a report. Amazon employees around the world regularly listen to recordings from the company's smart speakers as part of the development process for new services, Bloomberg News reports. Some transcribe artist names, linking them to specific musicians in the company's database; others listen to the entire recorded command, comparing it with what the automated systems heard and the response they offered, in order to check the quality of the company's software. Technically, users have given permission for the human verification: the company makes clear that it uses data "to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems", and gives users the chance to opt out. But the company doesn't explicitly say that the training will involve workers in America, India, Costa Rica, and more nations around the world listening to those recordings.
Amazon, Apple and Google all employ staff who listen to customer voice recordings from their smart speakers and voice assistant apps. News site Bloomberg highlighted the topic after speaking to Amazon staff who "reviewed" Alexa recordings. All three companies say voice recordings are occasionally reviewed to improve speech recognition. But the reaction to the Bloomberg article suggests many customers are unaware that humans may be listening. The news site said it had spoken to seven people who reviewed audio from Amazon Echo smart speakers and the Alexa service.
AI can reveal how many cigarettes a person has smoked based on the DNA contained in a single drop of their blood, or scrutinize Islamic State propaganda to discover whether violent videos are radicalizing potential recruits. Because AI is such a powerful tool, Microsoft president Brad Smith told the crowd at Columbia University's recent Data Science Day that tech companies and universities performing AI research must also help ensure the ethical use of such technologies. AI is now an invisible but inextricable part of life for hundreds of millions of people. The rise of machine learning algorithms combined with cloud computing services has put massive computer power at the fingertips of companies and customers worldwide. These trends have also enabled the rise of data science that applies AI methods to constantly analyze information from online services and Internet-connected devices.
Walmart's "customer hosts" will still greet customers but have additional and physically demanding responsibilities, which means eliminating greeters. Walmart is planning to use thousands of robots for a wide variety of tasks within its stores following a "well-received" round of tests in 2018. "Smart assistants have huge potential to make busy stores run more smoothly," the nation's largest private employer said in a news release. Walmart, which employs 1.5 million associates in the U.S. alone, said in the release Tuesday that the plans will give employees "more of an opportunity to do what they're uniquely qualified for" which is serve customers face-to-face on the sales floor. Walmart isn't the only retailer that has robots roaming around.