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Apple buys the voice tech startup behind Hello Barbie

Engadget

Apple has acquired PullString, the startup behind the voice technology powering the interactive "Hello Barbie" doll Mattel released in 2015. PullString, previously known as ToyTalk, was founded back in 2011 by former Pixar employees. Its AI platform gave its partner companies and clients a way to create digital and physical characters and voice apps that can communicate with people. Hello Barbie was one of those -- an interactive Thomas The Tank Engine toy was another. The company previously launched software that makes it easy even for non-technical pros to create Alexa apps of their own, as well.


Amazon invests in electric truck-maker Rivian

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Amazon is staking a claim in the EV market after it led a $700 million investment round in electric pickup truck and SUV maker Rivian. Other details about the investment aren't being disclosed, but previous shareholders are involved and Rivian is remaining an independent company. Rumors suggested this week Amazon and GM would both invest, but it's not clear if the latter took part in this round. Nor did Rivian disclose how much of the company Amazon now owns. "We are excited to have Amazon with us on our journey to create products, technology and experiences that reset expectations of what is possible," Rivian's CEO RJ Scaringe said.


How AI made Facebook's Portal your 'personal cameraman'

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After releasing its Portal video-calling tool to largely positive reviews (especially from its employees) last November, Facebook is finally cracking open the device and giving the rest of us a glimpse at the Portal's inner workings. Engadget sat down with Facebook's Rafa Camargo, Vice President of Hardware, and Matt Uyttendaele, Engineering Director of Mobile Vision to discuss the device's development and the artificial intelligence that powers Portal. When Facebook's AI research group (FAIR) began working on the systems that would eventually become the Portal two years ago, the team asked itself, "How do we create an automated a camera that will feel natural, will feel engaging and would actually not get in the way," Camargo explained to Engadget. "The key thing for us, is really invoking that we are connected in the two rooms and making you feel like you're there and just hanging out." In order to create that effect, the Portal team designed the device's Smart Camera to mimic the movements and judgements of human camera operators.


Dubai Airport drone scare temporarily disrupts flights

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Dubai International Airport is the latest to halt flights over a drone scare following similar incidents at London's Gatwick and Heathrow. The world's third-busiest airport temporarily stopped operations for just under 30 minutes due to "unauthorized drone activity," according to a tweet from the Dubai Media Office. Incoming flights were permitted to land during the disruption, reports The New York Times, which occurred between 10.15AM and 10.45AM local time. Operations are now reportedly back to normal. "Dubai Airports has worked closely with the appropriate authorities to ensure that the safety of airport operations is maintained at all times and to minimize any inconvenience to our customers," the airport said.


NVIDIA suffers as crypto crashes and trade wars bite

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NVIDIA wasn't joking when it warned that its performance for the quarter ending in January 27th, 2019 will fall short of expectations. The chipmaker's earnings report for the period shows that it posted a $2.2 billion revenue, which sounds impressive until you realize that it's down 24 percent from the year before. That figure is also down 31 percent from the previous quarter, which saw NVIDIA posting $3.18 billion in revenue. In addition, the company made $294 million in operating income, down a whopping 73 percent year-on-year and down 72 percent from the previous quarter. Meanwhile, its operating expenses went up by 25 percent from the same period a year before.


Hong Kong is testing high-tech monitoring systems for 'smart' prisons

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Prisons in Hong Kong are testing a variety of high-tech services that will allow correctional facilities to better track inmates, according to the South China Morning Post. The city's Commissioner of Correctional Services, Danny Woo Ying-min, claimed the new services will be used to monitor for abnormal behavior among the incarcerated, prevent self-harm, and operate the prisons more efficiently. The "smart prison" initiative includes strapping inmates with fitness tracker-style wristbands that monitor location and activity, including heart rate. Some facilities will also start to use video surveillance systems that can identify any unusual behavior, fights and attempts to inflict harm on one's self. Correctional Services is also testing robots that will be used to search for drugs in feces from inmates.


AI can write disturbingly believable fake news

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AI is getting better and better at writing convincing material, and that's leading its creators to wonder whether they should release the technology in the first place. Elon Musk's OpenAI has developed an algorithm that can generate plausible-looking fake news stories on any topic using just a handful of words as a starting point. It was originally designed as a generalized language AI that could answer questions, summarizing stories and translating text, but researchers soon realized that it could be used for far more sinister purposes, like pumping out disinformation in large volumes. As a result, the team only plans to make a "simplified version" of its AI available to the public, according to MIT Technology Review. The technology thankfully has some rough edges at the moment.


David Fincher's disturbed 'Love, Death and Robots' premieres March 15th

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When Netflix said that David Fincher and Tim Miller's Love, Death and Robots was an animated series for mature audiences, it wasn't kidding around. The streaming giant has posted the trailer for the 18-story anthology, and you definitely won't be watching this with younger viewers. The title is not only apt, but can sometimes describe one scene -- there are multiple displays of robot sexuality, for starters. The trailer doesn't show enough to indicate whether these will be thought-provoking tales or simply a bit risqué, but it's certainly enough to raise eyebrows (and ears, given the thumping industrial soundtrack). And even if you don't care for it, look at it this way: it might open the door for more adult-oriented animation on Netflix.


Anyone can publish a skill on the Alexa Store now

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Amazon is opening up its US Alexa store to let anyone share skills they've created for the voice assistant. Until now, it's been the domain of developers, who have already added more than 80,000 skills to the store. Last year, Amazon released its Alexa Blueprints tool, which lets anyone create a skill without needing to know how to code. You can use the tool's templates to make things like custom greetings and quizzes. Along with opening up the skills store, Amazon is rolling out more templates, which are particularly targeted towards bloggers, creators and organizations.


'Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening' gets a second life on Switch

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Nintendo had a giant surprise waiting at the end of its latest Direct show: it's remaking The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for the Switch. The company shared precious few details, but the brief gameplay demonstration showed that it would preserve the top-down perspective of the Game Boy original. This isn't a Breath of the Wild-style reimagining of the series, then, but it might be ideal for anyone wishing they could play the classic action RPG once again. You can expect it to reach Nintendo's system sometime in 2019.