6 futuristic tech gifts for under $500

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NEW YORK -- This year you can purchase a bit more of the sci-fi future. Hoverboards aren't quite what the name implies, but there's bona fide virtual reality, a droid you should be looking for and a basketball that improves your free throw, all one shopping-click away. These tech gadgets make the pocket-sized computer that talks to you and dials your friends seem quaint. But don't worry, there are plenty of smartphones on sale, too. Sphero's new $150 BB-8 droid is expected to be one of the hottest Star Wars gifts this holiday season.


Yelling at Amazon's Alexa

The New Yorker

The first time I met Alexa, the A.I. robot voice inside the wine-bottle-size speaker known as the Amazon Echo, I was at my friends' house, in rural New England. "Currently, it is seventy-five degrees," she told us, and assured us that it would not rain. This was a year ago, and I'd never encountered a talking speaker before. When I razzed my friend for his love of gadgetry, he showed me some of Alexa's other tricks: telling us the weather, keeping a shopping list, ordering products from Amazon. This summer, Alexa decided again and again who the tickle monster's next victim was, saying their children's adorable nicknames in her strange A.I. accent.


Siri keeps sending people looking for escorts to an esports bar

Mashable

An owner of an esports bar in Toronto says that his establishment has been getting some pretty odd calls recently, and he's pointing the blame at Siri. You can use Alexa in Amazon's app now, and it's really smart Alvin Acyapan, co-owner of the bar Meltdown Toronto, says that if you ask Siri to locate a sex worker in the Toronto area, it will suggest their bar. Hi @AppleSupport, could you please explain why #siri is saying that people can find prostitutes at our place? The bar also posted images of Siri's response to Reddit, where they went into a little bit more detail. "We've been getting calls about it for a few months now.


Sonos One hands-on: Betting on voice control to evolve

Engadget

After months filled with teases, rumors and speculation, Sonos has finally introduced its first speaker with built-in support for voice commands. Today, at an event in New York City, the company unveiled the Sonos One, a device billed as "The Smart Speaker for Music Lovers." As expected, the main attraction here are the voice features, which at launch will be powered by Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant. We say "at launch" because Sonos CEO, Patrick Spence, ended the presentation with the news that the One will also work with Google Assistant in 2018. You'll notice right away that the new speaker, which arrives October 24th for $199, looks nearly identical to the Play:1.


Inside Amazon's $3.5 million competition to make Alexa chat like a human

#artificialintelligence

Onstage at the launch of Amazon's Alexa Prize, a multimillion-dollar competition to build AI that can chat like a human, the winners of last year's challenge delivered a friendly warning to 2018's hopefuls: your bot will mess up, it will say something offensive, and it will be taken offline. Elizabeth Clark, a member of last year's champion Sounding Board team from the University of Washington, was onstage with her fellow researchers to share what they'd learned from their experience. What stuck out, she said, were the bloopers. "One thing that came up a lot around the holidays was that a lot of people wanted to talk to our bot about Santa," said Clark. "Unfortunately, the content we had about Santa Claus looked like this: 'You know what I realized the other day? Santa Claus is the most elaborate lie ever told.'" The bot chose this line because it had been taught using jokes from Reddit, explained Clark, and while it might be diverting for adults, "as you can imagine, a lot of people who want to talk about Santa Claus … are children." And telling someone's curious three-year-old that Santa is a lie, right before Christmas?