In the Game of Thrones-like artificial intelligence competition between Houses Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, the company most reticent to speak about its technology has usually been the one that ships planeloads full of stuff to consumers, hosts thousands of companies in its data centers, greenlit Catastrophe, and has a breakaway hit product that answers questions, plays music, and 4,998 or so other things. Yes, for some time, Amazon has been even more shrouded than the famously secret Apple, which opened up about its machine learning programs earlier this year. Lately, however, Amazon's head scientist and vice president of Alexa, Rohit Prasad, has been speaking up in public, making the case for his company's prowess in voice recognition and natural language understanding. Alexa, of course, is the conversational platform that supports that aforementioned hit product, Echo. On Wednesday Prasad gave an Alexa "State of the Union" address at the Amazon Web Services conference in Las Vegas, announcing an improved version of the Alexa Skills Kit, which helps developers create the equivalent of apps for the platform; a beefed-up Alexa Voice Service, which will make it easier to transform third-party devices like refrigerators and cars into Alexa bots; a partnership with Intel; and the Alexa Accelerator that, with the startup incubator Techstars, will run a 13-week program to help newcomers build Alexa skills.
After great promise in the 1960s that machines would soon think like humans, progress stalled for decades. Only in the past 10 years or so has research picked up, and now there are several popular products on the market that do a decent job of at least recognizing spoken speech. For Björn Schuller, full professor and head of the chair of Complex and Intelligent Systems at the University of Passau, Germany, who grew up watching Knight Rider--a television show about a car that could talk--this is the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy. Schuller is a World Economic Forum Young Scientist who will speak at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China, from June 26 to 28.He recently spoke about the possibility of machines soon tuning in to human language quirks, behavior and emotion. How did you get interested in machine intelligence and speech recognition?
Amazon is planning to release a pair of Alexa-enabled smartglasses as the latest addition to its range of voice-controlled devices, according to reports. Unlike most previous smartglasses, such as the ill-fated Google Glass experiment and Snapchat's Spectacles, the Amazon glasses won't feature a camera in any form, bypassing the privacy concerns that have plagued the form-factor in the past. Instead, they will focus on providing a link to Alexa, Amazon's voice-controlled personal assistant, through a bone-conduction audio system, which transmits sounds into the wearer's head by vibrating their skull, rather than through headphones inserted in their ear. According to a report by the Financial Times, the glasses could be revealed at a product launch event expected to be held soon alongside a home security camera, designed to tie in with its Echo Show video screen. Other reports have suggested the company will shortly release a new version of the Fire TV, its streaming media set-top box, with an Echo-style speaker system built-in.
Be careful of what you say around your Echo devices. A Portland woman was shocked to discover that Echo recorded and sent audio of a private conversation to one of their contacts without their knowledge, according to KIRO 7. The woman, who is only identified as Danielle, said her family had installed the popular voice-activated speakers throughout their home. It wasn't until a random contact called to let them know that he'd received a call from Alexa that they realized their device had mistakenly transmitted a private conversation. The contact, who was one of her husband's work employees, told the woman to'unplug your Alexa devices right now. 'We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,' the woman said.
Artificial intelligence has begun seeping its way into every tech product and service. Now, companies are changing the underlying hardware to accommodate this shift. Apple is the latest company creating a dedicated AI processing chip to speed up the AI algorithms and save battery life on its devices, according to Bloomberg. The Bloomberg report said the chip is internally known as the Apple Neural Engine and will be used to assist devices for facial and speech recognition tasks. The latest iPhone 7 runs some of its AI tasks (mostly related to photographer) using the image signal processor and the graphics processing unit integrated on its A10 Fusion chip.