Every Christmas in the '80s, I wanted the same thing as many other pint-sized Star Wars fans: a robot sidekick to call my own. And not just any old droid would do: It had to be an R2-D2, specifically one that could drop its third leg down and cruise around the world at my side. Growing up in the Death Star era, our entire generation thought it had "The Force." But eventually we realized that moving objects with our thoughts and duping people with Jedi mind tricks were all in our imaginations. But droids--they were real, or at least they could be, one day.
Personal robots, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, have come a long way in recent years. But fundamentally, they're still stationary speakers whose defining expression is a light that turns on when you speak. It's not just that he--and I use the term he here, because that's how Jibo refers to himself--looks like something straight out of a Pixar movie, with a big, round head and a face that uses animated icons to convey emotion. It's not just that his body swivels and swerves while he speaks, as if he's talking with his nonexistent hands. It's not just that he can giggle and dance and turn to face you, wherever you are, as soon as you say, "Hey, Jibo."
Sci-fi author Isaac Asimov came up with the "Laws of Robotics," an influential concept, in order to help clarify how humans might constrain their creations. For Asimov, robot intelligence is categorically different from humans': we're governed by ethics we can change in the moment, whereas for robots, self-preservation comes only after protecting and serving man. The Matrix (1999) depicted a burned-out world destroyed by conflict between man and machine but characterized the machines that governed it (and thrived off energy produced by the bodies of imprisoned humans) mainly as skittering, spider-like entities. Westworld, the HBO series based on a Michael Crichton film, plays with similar themes--its robot "hosts" are there to show humans a good time in a futuristic theme park, but the robots crave freedom.
Along those lines, gadgets like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Google Chromecast are continually being improved to make grabbing everything from Saturday morning cartoons to a Friday night flick easier. As popular as streaming boxes have become, it may be slick new screens like the recently released Element Amazon Fire TV Edition Smart TV that have the best chance of making us kiss our coaxial cables goodbye. Incorporating Amazon's popular Alexa voice assistant technology, the 4K TV, which starts at $450, can do everything an Amazon Echo smart speaker can, and more--like changing the channel or playing your favorite movie using only your voice. Of course boxes like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku Ultra also have voice control, but the Element lets you simply give a voice command to switch to programming picked up by a digital antenna, a low-cost piece of hardware that lets thrifty TV fans watch local stations, free of charge.
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. The standard model will cost $89.99 Amazon's portable Tap speaker will be selling for $79.90, a $50 markdown. Here's a brief look at how they compare: Who it's for: Shoppers looking for a decent living room speaker with smart speaker capabilities Amazon's standard Echo is ideal for those who want a smart device that can double as a speaker for playing music. The Show supports free video calling between other Echo owners and anyone with the Alexa app installed on their phone.
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.
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The biggest change will be the introduction of a new TV app, which essentially functions as a TV guide for your numerous streaming apps. Here's a closer look at what Apple announced during a media event: Apple's new TV app is designed to surface content from various streaming apps, like HBO Go and Hulu, and house them in one easily browsable place. The TV app will be available for iPhone and iPad as well, and is launching across devices before the end of the year. Minecraft, a hugely popular game whose maker is owned by Microsoft, is coming to the Apple TV by the end of the year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the event.
Amazon on Wednesday launched Amazon Music Unlimited, a music streaming service meant to compete with apps like Spotify and Apple Music. Amazon Music Unlimited differs from Amazon's previous music service, called Amazon Prime Music, in that it has a much larger library and is open to users who don't subscribe to Amazon Prime. Whereas Prime Music offers 2 million songs, Amazon Music Unlimited offers "tens of millions," putting it on par with Spotify and Apple Music's selection. Amazon Music Unlimited costs 9.99 a month for non-Prime members, and 7.99 for Prime members (Amazon Prime, which offers free two-day shipping and other benefits, costs 99 a year).