In September of this year, Amazon hosted a press event in the steamy Spheres at its Seattle headquarters, announcing a dizzying array of new hardware products designed to work with the voice assistant Alexa. But at the event, Amazon also debuted some new capabilities for Alexa that showcased the ways in which the company has been trying to give its voice assistant what is essentially a better memory. At one point during the presentation, Amazon executive Dave Limp whispered a command to Alexa to play a lullaby. But this year, the companies making voice-controlled products tried to turn them into sentient gadgets. Alexa can have the computer version of a "hunch" and predict human behavior; Google Assistant can carry on a conversation without requiring you to repeatedly say the wake word.
The internet is full of misinformation, and the internet of things is no exception. Smart speakers like Amazon's Alexa have been known to lie to children, with kid-friendly modes designed to shield them from life's harsher truths, from the reality of where babies come from to the career path of Stormy Daniels. But no question could be of greater significance for kids at this time of year than the one about the existence of the man who knows whether they've been bad or good. Google, Amazon, and Apple are not about to get themselves put on parent's naughty list--or worse, get unplugged--by telling kids there is no Santa. All three tech companies have special Christmas-themed answers in place this festive season, from whether Santa is real to whether you've been naughty or nice.
Virtual assistants such as Amazon's Alexa and Google Home have the capacity to analyse how happy and healthy a couple's relationship is, research has found. In-home listening devices will soon be able to judge how functional relationships are as well as interrupt an argument with an idea for how to resolve it, the study said. The research, by Imperial College Business School, stated that within the next two to three years, digital assistants could predict with 75 per cent accuracy the likelihood of a relationship or marriage being a success. The technology would reach a verdict through acoustic analysis of communication between couples – examining everything from everyday encounters to arguments. The virtual assistants would then be able to provide relationship advice and what researchers refer to as democratising counselling.
Here's an easy thing you can do right now to improve your digital security hygiene. Pull out your iPhone, open Settings, go into the Siri settings, and turn off Access When Locked. Do it on your iPad while you're at it. Go ahead and do it for your family and friends, too, at holiday functions when you need to deflect personal questions. In the battle of the smart assistants, every tech giant hopes to hook you on its voice-activated helper.
Sure, you could choose a smart speaker based on sound or price. The go-to gadget gift of the season is available from Amazon, Apple and Google with better acoustics, new touch screens and deep holiday discounts. Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant also want to adjust the thermostat, fill your picture frame or even microwave your popcorn. Each artificial intelligence assistant has its own ways of running a home. You're choosing which tribe is yours.
If you've so far withstood the temptation to install a smart speaker in your home, worried about the potential privacy pitfalls and a bit embarrassed about the notion of chatting aimlessly to an inanimate object, brace yourselves. This Christmas, the world's biggest tech giants, including Amazon, Google and Facebook, are making another bid for your living room, announcing a range of new devices that resemble tablets you can talk to. Facebook's is called Portal, Google's the Home Hub, and Amazon has unveiled the second version of its Echo Show. You can still speak to the digital assistants embedded in these devices, but their screens enable hands-free video calling (apart from the Google one), can act as a control pad for various smart devices you may have around your home, such as thermostats or security cameras and (this feature is on heavy rotation in all the promotional material) you can use them to prompt you through a recipe without resorting to smearing your buttery fingers over your phone or laptop. But before you make the leap and send off that letter to the north pole, you may want to ask a few questions.
This installment of Research for Practice features a curated selection from Alex Ratner and Chris Ré, who provide an overview of recent developments in Knowledge Base Construction (KBC). While knowledge bases have a long history dating to the expert systems of the 1970s, recent advances in machine learning have led to a knowledge base renaissance, with knowledge bases now powering major product functionality including Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Wolfram Alpha. Ratner and Re's selections highlight key considerations in the modern KBC process, from interfaces that extract knowledge from domain experts to algorithms and representations that transfer knowledge across tasks.
Virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri employ conversational experiences and language-understanding technologies to help users accomplish a range of tasks, from reminder creation to home automation. Voice is the primary means of engagement, and voice-activated assistants are growing in popularity; estimates as of June 2017 put the number of monthly active users of voice-based assistant devices in the U.S. at 36 million.a Many are "headless" devices that lack displays. Smart speakers (such as Amazon Echo and Google Home) are among the most popular devices in this category. Speakers are tethered to one location, but there are other settings where voice-activated assistants can be helpful, including automobiles (such as for suggesting convenient locations to help with pending tasks5) and personal audio (such as for providing private notifications and suggestions18).
When Whitney Bailey bought an Amazon Echo, she wanted to use the hands-free calling feature in case she fell and couldn't reach her phone. She hoped that it would offer her family some peace of mind and help make life a little easier. In some ways, she says, it does. But because she has cerebral palsy, her voice is strained when she talks, and she struggles to get Alexa to understand her. To make matters worse, having to repeat commands strains her voice even more.