Amazon Controls the Voice Controlled

Voice-controlled speakers that can answer questions, schedule appointments, play music, order products, and do many more activities are a luxury product.  Google Home, Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon, and Mattel have their own fans, but Amazon remains the top seller in the market with Echo dot products loaded with Alexa.  Tech Crunch explained how Amazon dominates the market in the article, “Amazon To Control 70 Percent Of The Voice-Controlled Speaker Market This Year.”

Amazon controls an astonishing 70.6 percent of the voice-controlled speaker market and the current trends show that consumers prefer to stick with one type of speaker, instead of buying a competitor.  Compatibility issues apparently weigh heavy on their minds.  The Google Home is predicted to grow from its 23.8 percent as it reaches more people, but for now, Amazon will remain in control.  Amazon’s marketing plan will certainly be hard to beat:

Amazon’s strategy with Alexa is to allow the assistant to extend beyond just voice-controlled speakers it manufacturers. The company has also included the assistant in its Amazon mobile shopping app, and has made it available to third-parties for use in their own hardware and software applications.

Google, however, is known to make decent and less expensive products than most of the bigger name companies, such as phones and laptops.  One other thing to consider is the quality of Alexa’s conversation skills.  Bitext, one of the best-kept secrets related to sentimental analytics, has many major clients, including a popular search engine.  Bitext’s clients deploy its technology to improve a chatbot’s skills.

Whitney Grace, May 18, 2017

Here Is 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.

Vishal Ingole, May 8, 2017

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

 

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

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

Asia Is at War…a Translation War

Translation tools have improved considerably since they first debuted.  They have a knack for European languages and others that use the Roman alphabet, but they suck when it comes to Asian languages.  Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and other Asiatic languages are some of the most difficult ones on the planet.  Translation apps have struggled with these languages, not only because of the lack of data, but a word’s meaning can change based on tone, and then there are the different alphabets.  Forbes shares that one of the problems Google faces with translation in the article, “Google Translates Vs. Papago: In Asia’s Battle Of The Apps, Everyone’s A Loser.”

Google Translation relies on information from its search engines to fuel this service, but Asian people prefer to use localized search engines instead of Google.  Naver wants to beat Google to Asian search and translation dominance and is already popular with Papag, its new translation app.  Papago will also be embedded in its new Web browser Whale.  Someone else is doing well in translation:

On top of Google Translate and Papago, another Korean software company Hancom, which makes a word processor, recently launched its NMT app “Genie Talk” that translates between popular Asian languages, plus English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Arabic. Flitto, a Korean-made translation network app popular in Southeast Asia, launched a free real-time text translation service, which suggests related phrases based on its data from five years of translation requests.”

In the end, humans are still the better translators over apps.  The new smart speakers, Amazon Alexa and Google Home, are decent translators, but they still only speak proper languages rather than the common slang.

Whitney Grace, April 17, 2017

What Once Was An App Is Now A Skill

When smartphones hit mainstream consumerism, a popular catchphrase was “there’s an app for that.”  An application, shortened to the moniker “app,” is a piece of software designed to function on smartphones and other mobile devices to aid in a task or provide a service.  For example, if you need a tool to track local weather or to record your exercise regiment, you can visit an app store (usually already downloaded on your chosen mobile device), download you selected app, and then use it.

While apps are still en vogue, the newest trend revolves around voice-activated assistants.  There are may voice-activated assistants on the market, including Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, but we should not forget the older digital assistants Apple’s Siri and Cortana from Microsoft.  Cortana and Siri have limited capabilities and are better used as vocal search conductors than anything else.  Google Assistant and Alexa, however, can be programmed with something called “skills.”

Skills are the voice-activated assistant version of apps and there is an entire store for them.  Browsing Amazon’s Alexa skill store is very much like browsing the app store.  Skills are organized by categories: education, weather, local, news, lifestyle, games/trivia/accessories, business/finance, shopping, and more.  The skills only number in the thousands at this point due to the technology’s youth, but their uses are akin to apps.  The biggest difference is that they can be controlled with your voice.

Instead of having to turn on your smartphone, then an app, you can now use your voice to command Alexa to tell you the weather, turn the lights off or on in your home, or give you local news.  In order to use voice-related technology, you’ll need to buy a compatible device such as the Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot, or the Google Home or download an app on your smartphone.  The question remains to be seen if these designs are just a flash in the pan or if something with more aesthetics will be released soon  How about the Alexa flowerpot or Google plant?

Whitney Grace, April 7, 2017

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

 

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