Around the time Leonardo Da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa, he was also writing his Codex on the Flight of Birds, a roughly 35,000-word exploration of the ways in which man might take to the air. His illustrations included diagrams positing pre-Newtonian theories of physics, a rudimentary plan for a flying machine and many, many sketches of birds in flight. The Mona Lisa, with her secretive smile, is a universe of intimacy captured on a relatively small panel of wood. But the landscape behind his captivating subject shows the world as you would see it from atop a tall hill--or from the vantage point you would get if you had hitched a ride on the back of a giant bird. Even as da Vinci was perfecting one way of seeing a face, he was dreaming of other ways of looking.
Apple may have gotten a head start on virtual assistants when Siri arrived on the iPhone 4s back in 2011. But rivals Amazon and Google have a big lead when it comes to smart assistants for your home, thanks to their Amazon Echo and Google Home devices. Not to be left out, Apple is entering the voice-activated home assistant arena with the HomePod, a Siri-enabled smart speaker that's available now for $349. Apple is hoping to make the HomePod stand out by positioning it as high-end audio gear with artificial intelligence, rather than a simple home assistant. The HomePod largely succeeds in that regard, but it's not without a few drawbacks.
One of the most widely known practitioners of artificial intelligence never used a computer or built what we'd think of as a robot. Mary Shelley's Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the creator of a "modern Prometheus" capable of thinking and acting on his own, captivated readers from the moment the novel Frankenstein first appeared on shelves. But that success belies the fact that Shelley was still ahead of her time. What once seemed like a bizarre fantasy--the notion that man could create a being who could think as we do--is, today, a fascination. It helps that we've grown closer, in our world, to making Dr. Frankenstein's Promethean dream a reality.
Last week, when asking for a cup of yogurt, my three-year-old son called me Alexa. It's a funny, modern problem to have your child mistake you for a disembodied A.I. voice--in this case, the one powering Amazon's Echo family of devices. But it's also a good example of what it's like living in a home powered by a smart speaker. Too busy to lift a remote, we bark commands into the void expecting something to respond. But on occasion there's no reply: The lights don't turn on.
For decades, cable has roped in millions of customers like me with the promise of hundreds of channels and thousands of shows. But in my 15-plus years as a subscriber, there's one thing I've watched most: my bill. Every month I pay it, and every month I think of cutting the cord. The reason is that there's never anything good on--unless you're a fan of The Shawshank Redemption (which is probably on two channels at once), or one of the 19 shows based on storage units. Years of this feeling has brought people like me to a slow boil and caused them to pull the plug on their pay television.
If you've been contemplating purchasing one of Amazon's voice-enabled Echo smart speakers, now is a particularly good time to pull the trigger. Just in time for Amazon's Prime Day blowout sale, which kicks off at 9 p.m. ET on July 10, the company has slashed the prices of its Echo devices. The standard model will cost $89.99 Amazon's portable Tap speaker will be selling for $79.90, a $50 markdown. Amazon Echo Show with an Arlo security camera, Amazon will chop $75 off the total price.
It's the first time Alexa, the virtual assistant powering Amazon's Echo devices, doesn't depend solely on verbal input. I can't glance at my nightstand without Alexa feeding me news headlines, recommending music videos, or encouraging me to try its other features. As such, it's possible to place a video call, audio call, or send an audio message just by asking Alexa. Amazon is positioning the Show as more than just a Skype machine by making it compatible with smart home products like baby monitors and security cameras.