Automated Houses Can Be Awkward

Old folks like to tell me that newer technology makes life more complicated.  The question, however, is who does it make life complicated for?  Older folks are the most common victims, but even the younger generations have problems with the latest technological craze, or if the wifi is not working, or their batteries run out of juice.  While it sucks when technology gets the better of us, often times it results in comedy gold.

My case in point comes from the sitcom Life In Pieces about a large family and the hilarious mishaps that plague their lives.  Unlike other sitcoms, Life In Pieces is told in four vignettes told over twenty-three minutes.  In the season two episode “Awkward Bra Automated Ordained,” Greg (played by Colin Hanks) has the brilliant idea to convert his house into a smart home.  He changes everything from door locks, lights, HVAC, and fire sprinkler system over to a smart home device, going as far as to remove the outdated items, including door locks that use keys.

Of course, nothing goes right for Greg.  The smart home device has a poor natural language processing algorithm and it misinterprets everything that Greg says.  The end result is that the house malfunctions and acts like a possessed demon.  He locks his wife and daughter of the house, he turns up the heat, sets the fire sprinklers off, and his embarrassing exercise music plays.

We can hope that actual smart home devices and digital assistants have a better comprehension of English.  One way you can view the episode is via Amazon: Life In Pieces, season two, episode fifteen “Awkward Bra Automated Ordained.”

Whitney Grace, March 31, 2017


Microsoft Office 365 Learning Tools Go Multilingual

The tools that rely on natural language processing only get more impressive as time goes by.  A recent example is that Microsoft has upgraded their Learning Tools in Office 365 to include more languages.  Winbuzzer shares how Microsoft is improving this feature in the article, “Microsoft Brings Learning Tools To World Online And OneNote Online.”

Microsoft debuted Learning Tools in October 2016 for OneNote, later they were uploaded to Office 365 as a much needed and desirable upgrade.  Learning Tools’s goal is help users read information more effectively and for the first time they will now be available in multiple languages.  Heading to the View menu on Office 365, then selecting the Immersive Reader option can activate the feature.  Users will be able to use Learning Features in the following ways:

  • “Read Aloud—Reads text aloud with simultaneous highlighting that improves decoding, fluency and comprehension while sustaining the reader’s focus and attention.
  • Spacing—Optimizes font spacing in a narrow column view to improve reading fluency for users who suffer from visual crowding issues.
  • Syllables—Shows the breaks between syllables to enhance word recognition and decoding.
  • Parts of Speech—Supports writing instruction and grammar comprehension by identifying verbs, nouns and adjectives.” 

Learning Tools is a downloadable reading tutor that even Sesame Street would be proud to use.  While the benefits for children just learning how to read and seniors with poor eyesight are obvious, slow readers, auditory learners, and people wanting to read better in a foreign language will also reap the rewards.

Whitney Grace, March 30, 2017

Text Analytics Reminds Us Not To Forget The Text

What we seem to forget when it comes to information analytics, natural language processing, search keywords, big data, social media and more is that all of these focus on organizing, understanding, and disseminating text.  Text is the basis for most of the world’s information and Text Analytics Forum wants to reminds us of that at their next event to be held in Washington, D.C. on November 8-9, 2017.  The purpose of the Text Analytics Forum is to stress the importance of the most underutilized resource: text, advances in knowledge management, and the technologies built to leverage it.

The forum will introduce text’s power to attendees:

The inaugural theme for Text Analytics Forum, Go Deeper, invites all who deal with text to take a deep dive into this powerful set of techniques. The Forum has something for all: whether you are new to the field and want to understand how it can add new capabilities or you are an experienced text analyst and want to see what the latest techniques and tools can add to your repertoire.

There will also be standard convention activities such as roundtables, keynote speakers, workshops, and ask the experts panel.  Text is the basis for all NLP applications and understanding its importance as well as how to make it a more powerful tool is a winning strategy.

Whitney Grace, March 29, 2017

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