AI in 2017 can't nearly match the smarts of 'Star Wars' droids — it barely understands us


At the Star Wars: The Last Jedi Hollywood premiere this week, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke sat down cross-legged on the red carpet to speak with BB-8, an intelligent robotic character from the Star Wars galaxy. He looked intently at the robot and pointed his finger as he spoke, as if in animated conversation with the famous space droid. This was, of course, a light mockery of modern robots. Machines -- while capable of extremely impressive automated feats -- lack true intellectual and emotional development. Still, in the past year, we were inundated with reports of artificial intelligence seeping into our homes and cars.

Google Home Max: Google's max effort pays off in powerful smart speaker


If you care more about your smart speaker's sound than which digital assistant it employs, the new Google Home Max speaker should be on your holiday short list. After days of pumping an eclectic range of music through Google's $399 speaker -- from AC/DC to the Three Tenors -- it's clear the Google Home Max is in a class by itself when it comes to filling a home or apartment with sounds even an audiophile could appreciate. The downsides: It's big, heavy, cord-powered and not particularly portable. Admittedly, for many people the decision to purchase this or that voice-activated smart speaker has often boiled down to which AI-infused digital assistant you're most comfortable engaging with in your home, most likely Amazon's Alexa or the Google Assistant. But when music is the priority, different features come into play.

Alexa can now wake you up with your favorite song


Maybe, just maybe, Alexa's new alarms can make you actually enjoy getting up in the morning. You can finally instruct Amazon's voice assistant to wake you up in the morning with a song of your choice. Yes, if you have a smartphone, you could do this already. But unlike the iPhone, which limits your selection to your Apple Music library, Alexa can select songs from a number of platforms: Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, SiriusXM, and iHeartRadio. Whichever you're loyal to, you're set.

Amazon's Alexa can now wake you up with music instead of alarms


One of the greatest perks of connected speakers is waking up to whatever music you like, not just a buzzer or the radio. However, that hasn't been an option for Alexa-equipped devices like the Echo -- until today, that is. Amazon has added a feature to Alexa that lets you wake up to the music of your choice from one of several streaming services, including its own options and Spotify. To begin with, your criteria can be as broad or narrow as you like. You can name a song, playlist or genre, or ask to play any kind of music if you're not picky.

5 Privacy Tips for the Voice-Notifications Era


The other day I received a voice notification that my Amazon order for Vitamin D pills (getting ready for a Portland winter) had shipped and was en route to my home. It was a simple gesture that was also communicated via email. But for someone who sends billions of notifications a day, the voice alert got my juices flowing because it represented an exciting future that's starting to come into view. After years of science fiction exposing us to the idea of voice-powered apparatus, we finally live in an era where smart speakers such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and other devices (like Apple's forthcoming HomePod) are at our beck and call to deliver news, music and movies in one moment and then, a few seconds later, change the temperature of our living room. And get ready for more notifications.

These are the 4 best tech deals on Amazon right now


If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. However, our picks and opinions are independent from USA TODAY's newsroom and any business incentives. Amazon's 12 Days of Deals continues on with a slew of offers for "music lovers, avid readers, and film buffs" and we've cherry-picked the best offers on the best products from the lineup. For the person you want to splurge on, tech is just the ticket. And whether they're the type who always has music playing, prefers reading to TV, or is obsessed with the latest technology, one of these things is sure to be the perfect fit.


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People used to dream about robot secretaries. Futurists imagined a world where computers obeyed our every command. When the Amazon Echo hit the market, that dream became a reality: Alexa was obedient, personable and all-knowing. She could carry out a myriad of basic tasks, with a personality as professional and unflappable as a human assistant. This year, Echo is more popular than ever, and despite competition from Google, Amazon still dominates 75 percent of the virtual assistant market.

16 gifts under $100 that every home cook wants


If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. However, our picks and opinions are independent from USA TODAY's newsroom and any business incentives. People who love to cook are particular about their tools. They want the pan that feels right in their hand when they're flipping an omelet, the tea kettle that heats water to the perfect temperature for green tea, or the spiralizer that works so well they don't mind giving it valuable real estate in their kitchen gadget drawer. It's all well and good until you're trying to buy a gift that the picky home cook in your life will actually love.

Amazon's latest idea to save you money: Get paid to watch ads


On this busy Cyber Monday, one of Amazon's busy distribution centers show how they manage to keep up with the holiday rush. Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has staked its brand on putting the customer above all other things, and the company's mission is to be "Earth's most customer-centric company." From its heady days as an online bookseller, Amazon has always sought to use the Internet to provide customers with convenience and low prices. Its Prime loyalty program may be the best example of this, as it offers free two-day shipping on millions of items, as well as a slew of other benefits including video streaming, music streaming, access to the Kindle Lending Library, and discounts at Whole Foods, all for just $99/year. Amazon has always experimented with ways to save customers money, but the company's latest move is like nothing you've ever seen.

10 fun things you didn't know the Amazon Echo Show could do


The Echo Show is the first of Amazon's Alexa-enabled devices to feature a screen, and to be honest, it's pretty darn cool. While the Show may be the most expensive* of the Echo lineup, ringing in at $229.99, it includes a slew of features and skills you can't get from the other Echo devices, thanks to the 7-inch touchscreen and camera. So why would you want to choose the more expensive Show over the new Echo ($99.99) or the more affordable Dot (on sale for $29.99)? There are several Show-specific skills that are both fun and functional. From watching HD movie trailers to making video calls, these are our picks for the top 10 skills you definitely need to try with your Amazon Echo Show.