Amazon Alexa Gets Frisky

Digital assistants are supposed to be sophisticated and bland, but the rare glitch can make them frisky.   ABC Action News shares how one little boy playing with his family’s Alexa for more than the song he requested in the story, “Boy Requests Song From Amazon, But Gets Porn Instead.”

In a recent viral video titled “Amazon Alexa Gone Wild” a little boy asks Alexa via his Amazon Echoto play the song “Digger, Digger.”  The boy is very young, so his speech is a tad difficult to understand.  After requesting the song multiple times, Alexa responds with Alexa responds, “Do you want to hear a station for porn?”  The digital assistant then proceeds to list a bunch of naughty terms, while the boy’s family panics and yell for Alexa to stop.  After the video was posted it was only a matter of time before it became viral:

The man who filmed the incident discussed the video in a separate YouTube video. ‘As soon as that video happened, once I shut it off, I said, That has to go viral,’ he said.

According to the New York Post, Amazon has fixed the glitch and is “working to build additional restrictions to prevent this from happening in the future.” The Post added that Amazon has apologized to the family.

This cannot be the only incident of Alexa being asked inappropriate requests.  Once the adults are gone, kids are the first to test the limits of propriety.  Do you remember looking up curse words in the dictionary at school?  Kids are asking Alexa, Google Home, Siri, Cortana, and other digital assistants not only curse words, but to also pull up porn and other mature content.  This incident just so happened to be hilariously caught.

Whitney Grace, April 28, 2017


Alexa as a Trojan Horse

We’ve long known companies capitalize on the data they glean every time we go online. Alexa and her kin take this to a new level, observes Sound & Vision in, “Big Data and You: The Analytics of Amazon’s Alexa.”  Writer Ken D. Pohlmann uses a hypothetical pizzeria to illustrate how companies can use data collected by such devices. He declares:

Alexa-type products are, in every sense of the term, Trojan Horses that, among other things, are designed to use the product’s interactivity to analyze your behavior.

Pohlmann cautions that this is something new—products traditionally brought into our homes haven’t spied on us for their makers in pursuit of actionable insights. Whether we accept this development is up to each potential user to decide.

Cynthia Murrell, April 27, 2017


Deep Linguistics for More Savvy Chatbots

Existing chatbots are missing one key ingredient, Bitext explains in their blog post, “Linguistics to Create a Human-Like Chatbot.” Writer Clara García outlines the three linguistic factors an AI requires for human-like conversation—syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. The first two have been covered, but algorithms still struggle with pragmatics; that is, context and cultural knowledge. García illustrates:

Without pragmatics, our bot will never sound like a human, and what’s more important, it will not understand the user when she talks like one. If the user uses an idiom, cracks a joke, or uses the word ‘it’ referring to the skirt she was trying to buy, the bot will not understand her.

Before chatbots achieve that level of nuance, machine learning must improve. For  more on how linguistics can help train smarter bots, download Bitext’s Deep Linguistic Analysis Benchmark.

Cynthia Murrell, April 27, 2017

Will the Real AI Please Stand Up?

Bots, the tiny AI based assistants are being touted as harbingers of next technology revolution. However, at present, bots are just repackaged virtual assistants with capabilities to understand human speech.

VentureBeat in an article titled The Sudden Rise of the Headless AI says:

In the early days of graphical user interface (GUI), the point-and-click interface provided different ways of achieving the same tasks you could do on the command line; now most bots provide an additional channel with which to do tasks you likely often do another way.

The software and services industry that generates revenues to the tune of $4 trillion annually will undergo a sea of changes once bots become intelligent enough. For instance, sales predictive bots by digging through Big Data could predict when a person will buy something he or she needs. What do you think will be the value of such bot and how it will affect the industry that spends so much of time and effort on generating sales leads?

Vishol Ingole, April 26, 2017

Heres Another Virtual Assistant to Play With

Facebook, fearing not to be left behind has released its own AI-based virtual assistant named M. Unlike as stated earlier by the company, M just suggests solutions based on a conversation between two people.

As reported by The Motley Fool in an editorial titled Facebook’s “M” Joins a Growing List of Virtual Assistants, the author says:

M will pop up in a conversation and provide limited assistance with some very mundane tasks. If M recognizes that the conversation is about payments, it provides the option of sending or requesting money.

So far, only Amazon’s Alexa and to some extent Google’s Home look promising in terms of capabilities. Other like Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri are just search result refining algorithms with supposed AI capabilities. However, none of the AI-based assistants can understand or answer complex questions or even ask follow-up questions to answer complicated questions accurately.

As of now, only one thing can be said about AI. The days of machines taking over from humans are far far away.

Vishol Ingole, April 25, 2017

Samsung and the Garbled Bixby

After the exploding battery debacle, Samsung has bet the farm on the new Samsung 8. One key feature is a chatbot, but the chatbot seems to need more speech therapy.

Samsung arguably makes a better smartphone than Apple, the biggest factor being a longer battery life.  One thing that Apple had an advantage in was Siri, its digital assistant.  Tech Crunch shares that Samsung finally joined digital assistant game with Bixby, but it had, “A Disappointing Debut For Samsung’s Smart Assistant, Bixby.”

Bixby will ship on the new Samsung Galaxy S8 and while its foundation code is not that bad, the execution is not the best.  The article conjectures that Samsung wanted to launch its own digital assistant to be the unifying force for all its Android products.   Samsung has long sought to distinguish itself from other Android developers and the idea was that Bixby would house its products under one suite umbrella.

However, Bixby fails to deliver a better user experience than Google Home or Amazon Alexa, much less equivocal.  Samsung even acknowledged that Bixby’s debut was a failure, but took it as an opportunity to improve the digital assistant over a total wash.

The key point in my opinion is:

At present, Bixby feels like a rushed piece of an otherwise well-formed and long thought out phone. The company has the opportunity to deliver a real groundbreaking software experience in Bixby, one that could truly set its software apart from the rest of its Android brethren and help build a connected future moving forward. As it stands, however, the smart assistant has gotten off on the wrong foot with undelivered potential.

An engaging user experience is how digital assistants can shoot directly from the loading dock to success.  Bixby’s launch was not well thought out, because Samsung was too eager to finish the race.  The old expression, throwing the baby out with the bath water springs to mind.  How about throwing out the Bixby?  Bixby might be the start of good digital assistant, but to improve the user experience Samsung should check out Bitext’s technology built on a deep analytics and real linguistics.

Whitney Grace, April 25, 2017

Amazon Fire TV Works with Alexa

It was only a matter of time before Amazon combined these products. The Metropolitan Project

announces the “New Amazon Fire TV with Alexa.” We learn:

Alexa through your Fire TV can do almost everything that Alexa in the Amazon Echo can do, and an exec leading a demo says that the goal is to eventually get absolute parity between the two.

Amazon believes the combination will entice users who really want the $179 Echo, but can only afford the $99 for Fire TV. The $80 difference? One can launch Echo with a voice command but must press a button on Fire TV’s remote to begin. Hmm, does that mean the less expensive device is not “always listening?” This could be considered a plus by security-conscious prospective users.

Cynthia Murrell, April 24, 2017

The Talkative Autonomous Bus

I should have foreseen this AI twist to the autonomous-automobile story—the Telegraph reports, “Self Driving Bus that Talks and Listens to Passengers Coming to US Cities Within Months.” Correspondent David Millward tells us the bus has been tested in Maryland, and might reach universities in Las Vegas and Miami this year. Millward notes:

The electrically-powered Olli, which can carry 12 passengers, is likely to enter service initially in closed locations such as on campuses and at airports.”

That seems wise. The communication software is derived from IBM’s Watson, and will be equipped to discuss destinations and, presumably, fares with riders. Maybe even weather? Intriguingly, the busses are made from 3-D printed parts. Right now, both state governments and automakers seem enthused about autonomous-driving technology.

Cynthia Murrell, April 21, 2017

Alexa Bar the Door

Electronic locks are nothing new, but one major manufacturer now links their systems to Alexa-based voice commands. SlashGear reports, “Kwikset Smart Locks Get Alexa Voice Control.” Readers may be relieved to know that, though Alexa will be able to lock a door at on command, voice unlocking remains unavailable. For now. Writer Brittany A. Roston reveals:

SmartCode locks are compatible with Samsung’s SmartThings platform, and include features like programmable user codes, an anti-lock picking/bumping feature, and one-touch locking, among other things.

Will physical keys go the way of the horse buggy and the MP3 player? The feature is available for Kwikset SmartCode models 910, 914, and 916. Samsung SmartThings is a platform for connecting and managing a rapidly expanding array of smart devices.

Cynthia Murrell, April 20, 2017

Lip-Reading System from Oxford Outperforms Professional Lip-Readers

The article on BBC News titled Towards a Lip-Reading Computer explores the invention of Oxford scientists touted for its superior-to-human lip-reading capabilities. The “Watch, Attend and Spell” system has been trained to lip read using BBC news footage and in partnership with Google’s DeepMind AI group. It claims a 50% success rate for correctly reading lips of news anchors, compared to just 12% success for professional lip-readers. Doctoral student Joon Son Chung explains,

What the system does…is to learn things that come together, in this case the mouth shapes and the characters and what the likely upcoming characters are.” After examining 118,000 sentences in the clips, the system now has 17,500 words stored in its vocabulary.

Because of its news-specific training, the system does much better with common phrases like “Prime Minister.” It will need a great deal of exposure to the other channels on the TV before it can claim real fluency. That said, the scientists at Oxford, and the charity group Action on Hearing Loss, are optimistic about the future. The potential for real-world applications includes better subtitles, better ability to instruct smartphones in loud environments, and even improvements to other speech recognition areas. The article does point out that no one thinks professional lip-readers should be concerned, in spite of being outpaced and outperformed by the technology. At least for now.

Chelsea Kerwin, April 19, 2017