Natural Language

Thoughtful service


Service robots could assist people with severe disabilities to go beyond basic communication and movement enabled by current devices, but they would require an efficient and minimalist control system. Kuhner et al. developed a robotic service assistant that performs complex tasks in real-world environments and is controlled using thought. The robot can fetch and carry objects and also interact in close physical proximity to the user. This control is achieved by combining techniques from brain-signal decoding and natural language processing, where common terminology is used to maximize the overlap between the way the user sees the world and the way the task planner defines and controls each primitive action for the robot. This is an article distributed under the terms of the Science Journals Default License.

Parsing signal and noise in the brain


Like engineers who characterize the fidelity of signals flowing through a circuit, neuroscientists focus on quantifying the degree to which neuronal signals are "noisy" (1, 2). Engineers have the benefit of designing the system and knowing the form of the signal, making identification of corrupting noise relatively straightforward. For neuroscientists, the task is harder, as it entails figuring out first what the signal is, and only then, what the noise is. On pages 254, 253, and 255 of this issue, Gründemann et al. (3), Allen et al. (4), and Stringer et al. (5), respectively, report findings from large-scale neural recordings in the brains of mice and find brainwide activity that correlates with behavior that might usually be ignored as noise. These studies prompt reconsideration of the origin and impacts of "noise" in the nervous system.

YouTube Music is free on Google Home, if you don't mind ads


Starting today, YouTube Music is offering a free, ad-supported experience on Google Home speakers and other Google Assistant-powered speakers. Just navigate to account settings, tap services and select music, then set YouTube Music as the default music service. Then it's just a case of saying "Hey Google, play [whatever]" and you're away. However, the ad-supported YouTube Music experience won't let you request specific songs, albums or playlist. Instead, you can tell it a genre or style or mood of music you're looking for and your Google Home will play a station based on that request.

Alexa owners can listen to Amazon Music for free -- with ads


Rumors started circulating last week that Amazon was exploring a free, ad-supported tier of its streaming music service. Turns out there was something to those rumblings. Today, the commerce giant announced that Alexa device owners in the US will be able to listen to top playlists and stations on Amazon Music at no additional charge, even if they are not Amazon Prime subscribers. Of course, this news also comes on the same day that Amazon's frenemies over at Google launched ad-supported free YouTube Music streaming on Google Home smart devices. Listeners will be able to ask Alexa to play music by creating stations based in a song, artist, era or genre.

IBM Watson Health cuts back Drug Discovery 'artificial intelligence' after lackluster sales


IBM Watson Health is tapering off its Drug Discovery program, which uses "AI" software to help companies develop new pharmaceuticals, blaming poor sales. IBM spokesperson Ed Barbini told The Register: "We are not discontinuing our Watson for Drug Discovery offering, and we remain committed to its continued success for our clients currently using the technology. We are focusing our resources within Watson Health to double down on the adjacent field of clinical development where we see an even greater market need for our data and AI capabilities." In other words, it appears the product won't be sold to any new customers, however, organizations that want to continue using the system will still be supported. When we pressed Big Blue's spinners to clarify this, they tried to downplay the situation using these presumably Watson neural-network-generated words: The offering is staying on the market, and we'll work with clients who want to team with IBM in this area.

Confused about climate change? Talk to our chat bot

BBC News

BBC News has launched a chat bot to help users learn about climate change in weekly conversations on Facebook Messenger. Subscribers will get an alert every Wednesday inviting them to explore topics from rising temperatures to new ways of tackling global warming. They can also ask questions which the bot will pass on for our human journalists to answer. You can sign up at the bottom of this page. We know that audiences are hungry for a better understanding of where the world stands on targets to control rising temperatures.

Death of the keyboard? Let's ask Alexa


Voice technology is quickly gaining ground as a primary way we interact with devices. In the zero sum UX game, that's eaten into the dominance of tactile interfaces like touchscreens and keyboards, and a new survey suggests that a surprising portion of consumers expect that keyboards in particular are on their way out. As I lazily cleaned my laptop keyboard this morning while trying in vain not to wake the computer up (yeah yeah ... but who has time to turn their computer off?), all I could think was: Good riddance. The survey, conducted by Pindrop Solutions, which provides phone-based fraud detection and authentication technology for enterprise customers, is the result of 4057 online interviews conducted with a representative sample of people in the UK, USA, France, and Germany. The results outline a market that's been primed by voice assistants and sci-fi depictions for a truly voice-activated technology experience.

Anker's Roav Bolt brings Google Assistant to your car's 12V socket, even with an iPhone


If you want to summon Google Assistant in your car, you basically have two options: Enable "Hey Google" and Smart Lock on your Android phone or launch Android Auto (should you be lucky enough to have a car with it built in). But with the new Roav Bolt, Anker gives us a third option, and even iPhone users can get in on it. Like the Alexa-powered Roav Viva, the Bolt plugs into your car's 12V socket and connects via Bluetooth or an auxiliary jack. A pair of USB ports lets you keep your phone charged while driving, and a single button on the front lets you manually summon Google Assistant. Otherwise, the Bolt is all about its noise-canceling microphones, which should provide better voice pick-up than the mic on your phone.

Best smart speakers: Which deliver the best combination of digital assistant and audio performance?


Your message has been sent. There was an error emailing this page. You don't need to live in a smart home to benefit from a Wi-Fi-connected smart speaker. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, and other digital assistants can help you in dozens of ways, and you don't have to lift a finger to summon them--just speak their names. If you already know you want a smart speaker, scroll down for our top recommendations.

Google Home can gently wake you up using Philips Hue lights


Smart lights still tend to offer a rude awakening if you tie them to your alarm, but Google wants to fix that. It's delivering a promised Gentle Sleep & Wake feature for Home speakers that gradually dims or brightens your Philips Hue lights to provide a more natural rest. Say the right command (such as "turn on Gentle Wake Up," "wake up my lights" or "sleep my lights") and the lights will change over the course of half an hour. You can set specific times if you intend to use it as part of your daily routine. The feature won't be widely available, at least not for a while.