The Idle Screens

Users today are surrounded by numerous devices with display screens, most of them connected to the Internet, but are lying unutilized. Alexa soon could replace them as an interactive companion.

CNBC recently published an article titled The First Investor in Snapchat Explains How Alexa Could Replace TV for a Lot of People in which the author says:

The average American watches 5 hours of TV a day, but they’re not always paying full attention: Sometimes, the TV is on in the background, as a sort of companion.

Referring to Snapchat investor Jeremy Liew in the article, the author says that most millennials today use TVs, smart or not as ambient TV wherein the background noise acts as a companion. The generation has become accustomed to this behavior. Alexa, according to Liew, can change that when the passive TV viewer could become an active user thanks to the AI powered personal digital assistant. Current streaming service providers like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube are not doing enough to turn these ambient TVs into appointment TVs. Alexa just might be the solution they are looking for.

Vishal Ingole, March 28, 2017

Et Tu, Echo?

The International Business Times reports, “Amazon Says Alexa Protected by First Amendment, Will Not Hand Over Evidence in Murder Case.” Police insist Amazon produce recordings from an Echo speaker found streaming music at the scene of a 2013 drowning in Arkansas, hoping they will demonstrate whether the death was an accident or a homicide. Writer Agamoni Ghosh summarizes Amazon’s position:

The company says the AI-based speaker is protected by the First Amendment and that both user’s commands and the device’s response come under protected speech.”

The Echo’s owner is a suspect in the case. Amazon has relinquished associated subscriber information and purchase history, but say prosecutors have not made a strong enough case for access to the recordings. What would make a case strong enough?

Cynthia Murrell, March 27, 2017

The Business of Smart Homes

Amazon with the help of consultants is helping people in select markets to make their existing homes smart. Apart from providing employment to the geeks, the move will also help Amazon upsell Alexa powered devices, smartly.

CEPro in the editorial Lessons from Amazon’s Smart Home Consultations says:

The advisors would analyze your home network, demonstrate a few products like Amazon Echo and Fire TV, fix things here-and-there inside the home, and follow up with recommendations for your smart home.

The author, however, is disappointed that the consultants did not carry any devices to sell even when she was ready to buy them right away. Also, the training seemed to be inadequate as the consultants had no inkling about other home automation products in the market. Amazon might be leaving money on the table if it’s not selling Alexa powered devices or for that matter any smart devices through its consultants.

Since Amazon is just starting on this kind of service, it will soon catch-up to the lost opportunities as it has done in other areas of the business.

Vishal Ingole, March 24, 2017

Yale Locks are Alexa Compatible Now

Yale has joined the Alexa bandwagon with Yale Real Living locks that can be controlled remotely using Alexa. A huge convenience indeed, but raises another set of security concerns, aka hackers.

TWICE in an article titled Yale Smart Locks Offer Amazon Alexa Compatibility says:

Operating the Yale Real Living Assure Lock using Alexa voice commands requires a Samsung SmartThings Hub and the SmartThings app; a Wink Hub and the Wink app; or an Amazon Alexa device and a Yale lock with Z-Wave or ZigBee, such as the Yale Assure Lock.

It indeed is a convenience, however to setup the entire arrangement and works smoothly will need the expertise of company people. Moreover, after things are setup, if any problem occurs in the system, again company personnel would be required for troubleshooting the numerous intermediate gadgets integrated into the system.

Also, one cannot discount the possibility of someone taking over the so-called secure network. Any device connected to the Internet is at the risk of being hacked. Apart from the fact that key makers are at the risk of losing their jobs in future, it goes without saying that a new breed of thieves will also emerge.

Vishal Ingole, March 23, 2017

Intelligent Workplaces Yet to be a Reality

AI driven search has already made its way into mobile devices. However, for the technology to make inroads into enterprise content management systems, the data first needs to be structured, a major roadblock.

CMS Wire in an article titled How AI-Driven Search Could Bring Us Closer to the Intelligent Workplace says:

AI-enabled search promises to transform the way people interact with information and digital assets, driving new efficiencies and creating value from information that has been all but lost in the “digital junk drawers

Unlike search queries made by general users, corporate queries will have to produce precise results. For this to happen, the underlying data to be indexed by the AI system needs to be highly structured. However, considering the complex and sensitive nature of corporate data, how large corporations will allow third-parties to develop AI driven search remains to be seen.

What would be more interesting to see is how employees of such organizations will be able to use these AI assistants on their smartphones for executing corporate queries.

Vishal Ingole, March 22, 2017

Google Assistant at Crossroads?

Though launched in May of 2016, Google Assistant still has no clear-cut strategy defined on how it plans to capture the market. So far it seems to be just aping what its competitors are doing.

IB Times in an OpEd titled Google Doesn’t Really Know What It’s Doing with Its Assistant says:

If Google wants Assistant to emerge as the de facto voice interface for billions of people around the globe, it needs to get its message right, and begin telling the world exactly what it plans on doing.

Assistant was Google Pixel exclusive initially. The AI-powered personal digital assistant then made inroads into Android-powered watches and certain Android phones. However, Google made the mistake of not keeping its device makers in the loop.

Google should not forget that it enjoys a dominant position in the OS market because of a multitude of vendors that use its mobile OS. But again, it’s just warm-up period with Alexa in the lead, and in all probability, Google has time to catch-up. Fearing that they may get left behind, Google associates like Samsung and Huawei are already in the process of developing their own AI assistants. Ok Google?

Vishal Ingole, March 21, 2017

Alexa and the First Amendment

Arkansas Police Department is trying to get 48-hours of recordings of Echo owned by a murder victim. Amazon, however, is refusing to do so raising the First Amendment clause.

Quartz in a news piece titled Amazon Argues That Alexa Is Protected by the First Amendment in a Murder Trial says:

Alexa’s recordings and responses are subject to free speech protections under the US constitution’s bill of rights, and that prosecutors need to provide more evidence that this audio is essential to the case.

According to Amazon’s lawyers, Alexa recordings provide deep insights into the life of a user through its recordings and if law enforcement agencies are given access to it, it would be invasion of privacy. Now that the cat is out of the bag, Amazon now needs to explain to its users how secure voice controlled devices are from hackers? One cannot forget that many secure networks have been cracked in the past by efficient team of hackers.

Vishal Ingole, March 20, 2017

Want to Test Drive Alexa? Reverb is the Answer

Reviews point out that Alexa is more efficient than Apple’s Siri. However, iOS and Mac users who want to test drive Alexa have to purchase Echo or Dot. Reverb however can let you try out Alexa without purchasing any of these devices.

According to Apple Insider, in an article titled Updated Reverb App Tries to Bring Alexa to the IPhone and Mac, the author says:

The prevailing wisdom is that Alexa is superior to Siri —but your mileage may vary and so might your need for privacy. But, if you wait to hear about Amazon’s sales figures you’re going to wait a long time.

Alexa in Reverb has extremely limited capabilities. Even to wake-up Alexa, the mic button needs to be activated and a command can be given only then. Reverb also cannot identify your precise location, thus it will keep on telling you whether reports of some other city. And lastly, you cannot order anything over Alexa. As stated in the article, Reverb can let you get the taste of Alexa in a very limited way. To truly explore the full potential, you need a proper Alexa powered device.

Vishal Ingole, March 17, 2017

Keeping Alexa Users Happy

Although Amazon claims that Alexa has over 10,000 skills that users can utilize, reports suggest that only 3% skills are regularly used by its users. This calls for better understanding of user behavior so that more users can start utilizing the AI powered personal assistant to its full capabilities.

VentureBeat in an article titled 5 Ways Popular Alexa Skills Keep Users Coming Back says:

According to the 2017 Voice Report, only three percent of all Alexa skills and Google Assistant conversation actions see usage by return visitors a week after the service has been activated.

Alexa and other AI assistants are at the same juncture where Internet based sellers were in mid-90s. Echo, Dot and other Alexa powered devices are a novelty right now. Users mostly are making the purchases for curiosity sake. Once the curiosity is satisfied, the smart speakers are relegated to the status of just-another-smart-but-not-so-useful device. In order to make it truly useful, app makers need to understand what can keep on bringing the users back again and again to their device. And since Alexa does not have a display, neither kitty videos or porn is going to help here.

Vishal Ingole, March 16, 2017

Alexa Is Taking over the TV Experience Too

Amazon recently introduced Alexa enabled remote for Fire TV Stick that seamlessly controls the Fire TV Stick, something which is missing in other streaming devices like Chromcast, TV and Apple TV.

BoingBoing in a product review New Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote Is a Big Improvement over the Previous Model says:

Recently Amazon introduced the new Fire TV Stick, which is better in many ways than the old version. It has Alexa voice control built into the remote, so you can just ask it to play or search for a show.

Earliest adopters of Fire TV Stick complained of sluggish interface and difficult navigation. However, with Alexa powered remote, everything becomes a breeze. Issues like poor Wi-Fi reception or connectivity have been taken care of. With the onslaught of streaming services and compatible devices, cable content distribution is going to move online. Allowing AI like Alexa to control it will make the experience even more fulfilling. Alexa has taken a big leap ahead of its competitors for certain.

Vishal Ingole, March 15, 2017