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The artificial intelligence behind BBVA's virtual assistant, Blue


Your financial health has improved since last month. Would you like to know by how much?" Blue, BBVA's new virtual assistant (VA), is the one doing the talking. Blue is integrated in the bank's mobile banking app in Spain (for Android and iOS) and can respond to over 100 user requests from the more than 800 features available in the application. Blue is pleasant, patient, and able to put itself in the shoes of others. It loves talking to humans and is always willing and ready to help customers. And it wants to learn lots of things in order to become even more insightful. These are just some of the personality traits that characterize BBVA's new voice assistant, which came to life out of a complex process that factored even the most minor details. The IT consulting firm, Gartner, defines virtual assistants as tools that help users perform a series of tasks that previously required human assistance. VAs use predictive models, natural language processing tools, recommendation engines, personalization systems based on artificial intelligence and advanced data analytics to do their job: assisting users and automating tasks. "VAs listen to and observe behaviors, build and maintain data models, and predict and recommend actions," the consulting firm explains. Blue's artificial intelligence capabilities are the result of a hybrid development: made up mostly of parts created by BBVA and others based on technologies that were readily available on the market and benefit from an advanced level of maturity, such as natural language processing (NLP) techniques. Specifically, the core of the system's artificial intelligence functionality is a 100 percent BBVA in-house development called Lenny. It is based on a set of cloud-based microservices and is responsible for orchestrating all the pieces that go into making Blue work. Thanks to this BBVA-developed'artificial brain', Blue is connected to the application functionalities that are powered by advanced data analytics. Examples include predicted banking transactions and financial health features, which the BBVA virtual assistant makes readily available to the customers by using natural, human-like dialog. "During the development of Blue, one of the most significant challenges was ensuring that we could cover the full range of functionality that BBVA, as a major player, offers in its app -- recognized as the most complete on the market -- in a voice and text-based virtual assistant," Eliseo Catalán, Head of BBVA Spain's Smart Assistants explains. Achieving this required that all the features in the app -- offered thanks to BBVA's digital capabilities -- were correctly set up and that each use case was thoroughly trained so that the user is given the appropriate response at every juncture of the customer journey. "We do all of this for the various platforms that might have different capabilities.

Human biohacking: an exciting prospect, but only for the rich?


A multi-nation study finds that many of us consider biohacking exciting, but fears concerning hacking and privacy remain. Human augmentation can describe many things. Hearing aids, pacemakers, and prosthetics are already in use, but in the future, we could be using the term for implants that improve cognitive abilities; chips that connect us to our smart devices, or bionic eyes that can restore lost sight, and more. When it comes to future applications, countries worldwide are pushing ahead with the development of new technologies which could result in enhancements to the human body. For example, Japan has recently set $1 billion on the table for researchers willing to pursue everything from human augmentation to longevity, due to the need to tackle an aging workforce and shrinking population.

Major survey highlights Europeans' fears over AI – Government & civil service news


Less than 20% of Europeans believe that current laws "efficiently regulate" artificial intelligence, and 56% have low trust in authorities to exert effective control over the technology, according to a new survey from the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). The findings have important implications for the governance and design of AI-powered public services, emphasising the need to address citizens' fears over transparency, accountability, equity in decision-making, and the management of personal data. The BEUC surveyed 11,500 consumers in nine European countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. It found that while a large majority of respondents feel that artificial intelligence (AI) can be useful, most don't trust the technology and feel that current regulations do not protect them from the harms it can cause. It also found that 66% of respondents from Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain agree that AI can be hazardous and should be banned by authorities.

AI may not predict the next pandemic, but big data and machine learning can fight this one


In April, at the height of the lockdown, computer-science professor Àlex Arenas predicted that a second wave of coronavirus was highly possible this summer in Spain. At the time, many scientists were still confident that high temperature and humidity would slow the impact and spread of the virus over the summer months, as happens with seasonal flu. Unfortunately, Arenas' predictions have turned out to be accurate. Madrid, the Basque country, Aragon, Catalonia, and other Spanish regions are currently dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases, despite the use of masks, hand-washing and social distancing. Admittedly, August is not as bad as March for Spain, but it's still not a situation many foresaw.

Coronavirus: Airport testing and a royal lockdown

BBC News

Here are five things you need to know about the coronavirus outbreak this Wednesday evening. We'll have another update for you tomorrow morning. We've heard from Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who's said testing is not a "silver bullet" to stop the need for quarantine for people returning from Spain. Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye wants tests at airports, and again a few days later, as an alternative. While Conservative MP Crispin Blunt thinks a more targeted use of quarantine measures would get more public support than a blanket rule for the whole of Spain.

Mount Sinai study suggests social media may help some people keep active during COVID-19 lockdown


The vast social experiment that is underway in the time of COVID-19 is going to yield fascinating data about human behavior for years to come. Some scientists are already examining the first samples of such data to formulate hypotheses about how interventions such as lockdown may be affecting people. A study conducted jointly between the Icahn School of Medicine at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital and researchers in Spain found that people took more steps during lockdown when using social media apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp, according to write-up of the work posted Sunday on the pre-print server medRxiv. The study design itself is an interesting window into the trends in research. It comes out of prior work done with smartphones and wearable technology to track people's behavior over time, and so it represents the new angle that mobile technology is having on research.

How many of us are likely to have caught the coronavirus so far?

New Scientist

JUST how many people have been infected with the coronavirus? Statistics are trickling in from cities and countries around the world, but the figures vary hugely. Some regions are reporting that less than 1 per cent of people have been infected, and others that over half the population has had the virus. How are these figures calculated, and which can we trust? Determining the true prevalence of coronavirus infection will be important for understanding how the virus spreads and limiting its damage. The reporting of coronavirus cases varies drastically around the world.

Amazon's Echo Auto comes to the UK, Canada and parts of Europe


Amazon launched Echo Auto in the US back in 2018, designed to bring Alexa voice commands to vehicles where they wouldn't normally be an option. Now, finally, it's arrived in the UK and Canada, as well as Germany, Italy and Spain (it was previously also available in Australia and India). The device uses your phone's cellular connection via a Bluetooth link, letting you talk to Alexa in the usual way -- asking about the weather or to play audiobooks, for example -- as well as carrying out journey-orientated tasks, such as turning on your houselights as you pull into your driveway. Many newer cars already include some kind of voice assistant as standard -- drivers of vehicles without have also had other Alexa-based options to choose from, such as Garmin's Speak series and Anker's Roav Viva. However, a more'official' Amazon Alexa device could be the thing to convince those that haven't yet adopted the technology, even if it's a couple of years in the making.

In Spain, bar bot serves up contact-free beers amid pandemic

The Japan Times

Seville, Spain – He maybe silent and his moves mechanical but he can pull you a pint without the slightest concern about contamination: meet Beer Cart, the robotic barman serving beer in Seville. He made his debut when the southern city began enjoying new freedom as Spain eased a two-month lockdown, with bars and cafes in half of the country allowed to reopen their terraces. Sitting in the middle of the bar at La Gitana Loca (The Crazy Gypsy), the giant robotic arm with a "Captain Hook" pincer smoothly reaches over to a dispenser, takes a plastic cup then spins around to hold it at an angle under the tap. Gradually straightening the cup as it fills, the robot then places it on the counter for the customer to pick up. Serving up small draft beers -- or canas -- for just over a week in the center of Seville, the bionic barman has drawn a steady stream of both customers and curious onlookers.

Esteban Granero: how midfielder is fighting coronavirus with AI Sid Lowe


Esteban Granero has some good news, a little light at the end of a long, dark tunnel in Spain, where the coronavirus crisis has left more than 21,000 people dead. "The situation is terrible," says the midfielder, a league title winner with Real Madrid, "but the curve is clearly downward now; we reached the peak on the fourth [of April] and now we're on the way down. Things shift daily but we think at the end of the month, early May, the number of cases will be very low and there will be room for optimism." Granero does not speak lightly. He has been watching the trends carefully.