Mossberg: The Disappearing Computer


The biggest hardware and software arrival since the iPad in 2010 has been Amazon's Echo voice-controlled intelligent speaker, powered by its Alexa software assistant. But just because you're not seeing amazing new consumer tech products on Amazon, in the app stores, or at the Apple Store or Best Buy, that doesn't mean the tech revolution is stuck or stopped. They are: Artificial intelligence / machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics and drones, smart homes, self-driving cars, and digital health / wearables. Google has changed its entire corporate mission to be "AI first" and, with Google Home and Google Assistant, to perform tasks via voice commands and eventually hold real, unstructured conversations.

Amazon Echo Dot review (2016): Forget the Echo. Buy this instead.


The robot assistants we were promised as children are finally ready for the home. Instead of walking, talking humanoid automatons like Rosie from The Jetsons and Robby the Robot from Lost in Space, our well-spoken helpers are housed in plastic and sit on tables. They answer our questions, control our homes and sometimes tell us a story. The most ubiquitous assistant so far has been Alexa, an Amazon-powered attendant that has made the jump from a 180 tower to the 50 Dot, which isn't much bigger than a hockey puck. That sort of drop in size usually results in a loss of features.

Amazon launches voice-driven on-demand music service


NEW YORK--"Alexa, take on Spotify and Apple Music." But Amazon on Wednesday launched Amazon Music Unlimited, an on-demand streaming service powered by the Alexa voice familiar to Echo owners, and a service primed to muscle in on an already congested streaming market for music. Amazon Music Unlimited debuts with a catalog of "tens of millions" of songs--Amazon won't reveal a precise number-- as well as curated playlists and personalized stations. That promises to makes it more of a viable competitor against Apple Music, Spotify and any number of other streaming services than the company's existing Amazon Prime Music service, which has a far more limited catalog of some two million songs and will remain available at no extra cost to Amazon Prime members. All too often when you request a song on Echo, Prime Music only plays a sample.

Google signs up writers from Pixar and The Onion to give its AI helper a personality

Daily Mail

Google has hired comedy writers from Pixar and The Onion in a bid to make its smart assistant more likeable. It hopes to use their talent to'infuse personality' into its AI helper, which will be used in the firm's new Pixel phones, Duo app and Home speaker. The ultimate goal is to make users feel more emotionally connected to their personal software agent and the firm believes a livelier disposition could make this happen. In a world of order-taking machines, Google Assistant aims to be a comedian. The search giant has recently hired comedy writers from Pixar and The Onion, a satire newspaper, in order to'infuse personality' into its virtual assistant that will live in Google Home (pictured) Earlier this month, Google unveiled its Pixel smartphones and eagerly awaited Home speaker that will both be designed with the smart assistant.

Google Hires From The Onion, Pixar To Write Jokes For Assistant

International Business Times

Google is hiring writers from the farcical newspaper the Onion and the computer animation film studio Pixar to humanize its Assistant AI voice service, a Wall Street Journal report said. Google's new Pixel phone, which will hit stores Oct. 21, will be the first device to feature its Assistant voice service. After Amazon launched its AI voice service, Alexa, it found that people spoke to it as if it were a person. AI in its current form isn't really artificial intelligence since the device doesn't understand the conversation. Google is hiring writers from the Onion and Pixar to "infuse personality" to its voice service, Gummi Hafsteinsson, product-management director of Google Home, told WSJ Sunday.

All That New Google Hardware? It's a Trojan Horse for AI


It was Assistant, the artificially intelligent digital helper that caters to your every whim and powers your every interaction. Assistant is invisible, in the design-jargon sense. The omnipresent concierge works in the background, predicting your needs, processing your requests, and offering neatly parceled answers to your questions. You never see the cogs behind it, you merely type (or speak) a command and read (or hear) tailored responses served on screen or through a speaker. This requires more than a smartphone, which explains the gadgets Google announced Tuesday.

Amazon's New TV Streaming Stick Has Echo-Like Voice Controls


Amazon is releasing a new version of its Fire TV Stick that includes support for its Alexa virtual assistant, the company announced on Wednesday. It will be priced at 39.99, just like the older model, and begins shipping on Oct. 20. The addition of Alexa means Fire Stick users will be able to perform tasks like finding content by genre and launching apps without tapping any buttons on the device's remote control. "Go back 30 seconds," etc.), will only be available when viewing TV shows and movies from Amazon Video, not third-party apps like Netflix. Amazon also says the new Fire Stick will be 30% faster than previous models.

Why we like the music we do

MIT News

In Western styles of music, from classical to pop, some combinations of notes are generally considered more pleasant than others. To most of our ears, a chord of C and G, for example, sounds much more agreeable than the grating combination of C and F# (which has historically been known as the "devil in music"). For decades, neuroscientists have pondered whether this preference is somehow hardwired into our brains. A new study from MIT and Brandeis University suggests that the answer is no. In a study of more than 100 people belonging to a remote Amazonian tribe with little or no exposure to Western music, the researchers found that dissonant chords such as the combination of C and F# were rated just as likeable as "consonant" chords, which feature simple integer ratios between the acoustical frequencies of the two notes.

Wanted: Creative Humans to Make AI Personalities Sparkle


It takes a lot of work to create a good movie or TV character, and apparently much of the same work is now going into creating the characters behind AI assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Alexa. As this piece in the Washington Post points out, creative workers like poets, fiction writers, and comedians are fast becoming the ones responsible for making these assistants seem human--coming up with everything from human-sounding filler words to jokes to a background story and small personality details. It makes sense: if you want to get people to use these software-based assistants, they should be approachable, dynamic, and have consistent personalities. Throwing in some party tricks--such as Siri's ability to beat box--doesn't hurt, either. But just because your AI assistant has a carefully curated personality doesn't mean it's going to be useful.