Washington Post


Why some accents don't work on Alexa or Google Home

Washington Post

When Meghan Cruz says "Hey, Alexa," her Amazon smart speaker bursts to life, offering the kind of helpful response she now expects from her automated assistant. With a few words in her breezy West Coast accent, the lab technician in Vancouver gets Alexa to tell her the weather in Berlin (70 degrees), the world's most poisonous animal (a geography cone snail) and the square root of 128, which it offers to the ninth decimal place. But when Andrea Moncada, a college student and fellow Vancouver resident who was raised in Colombia, says the same in her light Spanish accent, Alexa offers only a virtual shrug. She asks it to add a few numbers, and Alexa says sorry. She tells Alexa to turn the music off; instead, the volume turns up.


Facebook, boosting artificial-intelligence research, says it's 'not going fast enough'

Washington Post

Facebook will dramatically accelerate its research into artificial intelligence, its chief AI scientist said Tuesday, in hopes of ensuring the social network doesn't fall behind with the technology it will need to contend with Internet rivals and police its gargantuan audience. The world's biggest social network said it would recruit high-profile engineers and expand its AI-research division to roughly 170 scientists and engineers across eight global offices, including Paris, Pittsburgh, Montreal, London and Tel Aviv. The expansion of the international labs and new academic partnerships will be devoted to the study of robotics, virtual animation, learning machines and other forms of AI. Yann LeCun, Facebook's chief AI scientist and an early machine-learning architect, said the expanded research effort was pushed by Facebook leaders such as CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "AI has become so central to the operations of companies like ours, that what our leadership has been telling us is: 'Go faster.


Microsoft calls for regulation of facial recognition, saying it's too risky to leave to tech industry alone

Washington Post

Microsoft is calling for government regulation on facial-recognition software, one of its key technologies, saying such artificial intelligence is too important and potentially dangerous for tech giants to police themselves. On Friday, company president Brad Smith urged lawmakers in a blog post to form a bipartisan and expert commission that could set standards and ward against abuses of face recognition, in which software can be used to identify a person from afar without their consent. "This technology can catalog your photos, help reunite families or potentially be misused and abused by private companies and public authorities alike," Smith wrote. "The only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so." Could that be used against immigrants?]


Microsoft calls for regulation of facial recognition, saying it's too risky to leave to tech industry alone

Washington Post

Microsoft is calling for government regulation on facial-recognition software, one of its key technologies, saying such artificial intelligence is too important and potentially dangerous for tech giants to police themselves. On Friday, company president Brad Smith urged lawmakers in a blog post to form a bipartisan and expert commission that could set standards and ward against abuses of face recognition, in which software can be used to identify a person from afar without their consent. "This technology can catalog your photos, help reunite families or potentially be misused and abused by private companies and public authorities alike," Smith wrote. "The only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so." Could that be used against immigrants?]


Lawmakers press Apple and Google to explain how they track and listen to users

Washington Post

Top Republican lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters Monday asking Apple and Google for more information on how extensively their smartphones track people's locations and record snippets of their conversations. The questions from lawmakers come amid a broader scrutiny from Capitol Hill into how the underlying, everyday practices of technology companies may infringe on Americans' privacy. Congressional hearings with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg revealed several lawmakers were troubled by the amount of data that the social network collects on a regular basis. In the letters to Google and Apple, lawmakers said the committee is "reviewing the business practices that may impact the privacy expectations of Americans." The letters ask Larry Page -- the chief executive of Google's parent company Alphabet -- and Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, for more specific information on how their phones collect location information at times when many people may not expect.


Lawmakers press Apple and Google to explain how they track and listen to users

Washington Post

Top Republican lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters Monday asking Apple and Google for more information on how extensively their smartphones track people's locations and record snippets of their conversations. The questions from lawmakers come amid a broader scrutiny from Capitol Hill into how the underlying, everyday practices of technology companies may infringe on Americans' privacy. Congressional hearings with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg revealed several lawmakers were troubled by the amount of data that the social network collects on a regular basis. In the letters to Google and Apple, lawmakers said the committee is "reviewing the business practices that may impact the privacy expectations of Americans." The letters ask Larry Page -- the chief executive of Google's parent company Alphabet -- and Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, for more specific information on how their phones collect location information at times when many people may not expect.


"I'm Google's automated booking service." Why Duplex is now introducing itself as a robot assistant.

Washington Post

Silicon Valley's quest for artificial intelligence has led it to build self-driving cars, drones, and robots that can do back flips. But often that journey has come down to something much more prosaic, such as ordering a pizza -- or booking a restaurant reservation. Duplex is the company's next-generation virtual helper. When the company first showcased it at its developer conference in May, it engaged in conversation so lifelike -- complete with humanlike "ums" and pauses -- that the person on the other end of the call couldn't tell that the speaker was just software. Some asked whether the interaction was fake.


How much all-seeing AI surveillance is too much?

Washington Post

When a CIA-backed venture capital fund took an interest in Rana el Kaliouby's face-scanning technology for detecting emotions, the computer scientist and her colleagues did some soul-searching -- and then turned down the money. "We're not interested in applications where you're spying on people," said el Kaliouby, the CEO and co-founder of the Boston startup Affectiva. The company has trained its artificial intelligence systems to recognize if individuals are happy or sad, tired or angry, using a photographic repository of more than 6 million faces. Recent advances in AI-powered computer vision have accelerated the race for self-driving cars and powered the increasingly sophisticated photo-tagging features found on Facebook and Google. But as these prying AI "eyes" find new applications in store checkout lines, police body cameras and war zones, the tech companies developing them are struggling to balance business opportunities with difficult moral decisions that could turn off customers or their own workers.


I never said that! High-tech deception of 'deepfake' videos

Washington Post

Hey, did my congressman really say that? Is that really President Donald Trump on that video, or am I being duped? New technology on the internet lets anyone make videos of real people appearing to say things they've never said. Republicans and Democrats predict this high-tech way of putting words in someone's mouth will become the latest weapon in disinformation wars against the United States and other Western democracies. This technology uses facial mapping and artificial intelligence to produce videos that appear so genuine it's hard to spot the phonies.


I never said that! High-tech deception of 'deepfake' videos

Washington Post

Hey, did my congressman really say that? Is that really President Donald Trump on that video, or am I being duped? New technology on the internet lets anyone make videos of real people appearing to say things they've never said. Republicans and Democrats predict this high-tech way of putting words in someone's mouth will become the latest weapon in disinformation wars against the United States and other Western democracies. This technology uses facial mapping and artificial intelligence to produce videos that appear so genuine it's hard to spot the phonies.