Amazon Phone Thinly Disguised as Alexa Calling

Amazon once tried to release its own phone, but it proved a failure.  Amazon is trying the venture once again as a feature on its smart assistant Alexa called “Alexa Calling.  Alexa Calling allows users to send free voice calls and messages through Echo devices.  It does not come as a surprise, however, that there is a design flaw, this one related to privacy.  The Tech Portal explains more about the privacy issue in, “Privacy Flaw: Why You Should Think Twice Before Enabling Alexa Calling?”

It seems like enable Alexa Calling would be a good idea.  You could call or text anyone for free without evening picking up a phone.  The problem is that when the feature is enabled, anyone can access your contacts list if they can access the speaker.  They will also be able to listen to calls and messages.  Even worse is that Alexa Calling does not allow users to curate their contact list, rather everyone is added.

The absolute worst problem is this:

What’s even more creepy (at least I think it is) is the fact, if you have blocked someone’s number on your phone, won’t matter when s/he calls on the Echo device. YES, they can call and you can do absolutely nothing as of now to prevent this from happening. This is because Alexa just uses your number and not your phone and the settings for voice calls. Hence, you cannot block the incoming calls at all.

When Amazon was asked about blocking unwanted callers on Alexa Calling, their reply was there currently was not any way to do it.  Good job Amazon, another failure in communication.

Whitney Grace, May 25, 2017

Bots Speak Better Than Humans

While Chatbots’ language and comprehension skills remain less than ideal, AI and algorithms are making them sound more and more human each day.  Quartz proposes that chatbots are becoming more human in their actions than their creators in the article, “Bots Are Starting To Sound More Human Than Most Humans.”  The article makes a thoughtful argument that while humans enjoy thinking that their actions are original, in reality, humans are predictable and their actions can be “botified.”

Computers and bots are becoming more human, but at the same time human communication is de-evolving.  Why is this happening?

It might be because we have a limited amount of time and an unlimited amount of online relationships. In an effort to solve this imbalance, we are desperately trying to be more efficient with the time we put into each connection. When we don’t have the time to provide the necessary thought and emotional depth that are hallmarks of human communication, we adopt the tools and linguistic simplicity of bots. But when our communication is focused on methods of scaling relationships instead of true connection, the process removes the thought, emotion, and volition that makes that communication human.

The article uses examples from LinkedIn, Facebook, and email to show how many human interactions have become automated.  Limited time is why we have come to rely on automated communication.  The hope is to free up time for more valuable interactions.  Computers still have not passed the Turing Test and it will only be a matter of time before it does happen.  Companies like Bitext with their breakthrough computational linguistics technology are narrowing the margins.  The article ends on a platitude that we need to turn off the bot aspects of our personality and return to genuine communication.  Yes, this is true, but also seems like a Luddite response.

The better assertion to make is that humans need to remember their human uniqueness and value true communication.

Whitney Grace, May 25, 2017

Users Discuss Health with Alexa

For better or worse, many people now turn to WebMD for health information. We learn from Forbes’ article, “Amazon Alexa Can Now Be Your Doctor” that Amazon has worked with that site to develop a skill enabling Alexa to answer basic health questions. For those who want to get it in writing, contributor Lee Bell mentions:

In addition to providing answers via voice, the new WebMD integration gives users the chance to request additional information sent in text form to their Alexa app.

Though her voice may tempt us to think otherwise, Alexa’s involvement does nothing to combat the problem of misdiagnosis-via-internet. Still, for those determined to research their symptoms before calling the doctor, this skill could save some time.

Cynthia Murrell, May 23, 2017

Los Angeles Relies on Chatbot for City Wide Communication

Many people groan at the thought of having to deal with any government entity.  It is hard to get a simple question answered, because red tape, outdated technology, and disinterested workers run the show.  But what if there was a way to receive accurate information from a chipper federal employee?  I bet you are saying that is impossible, but Government Technology explains that “Los Angeles, Microsoft Unveil Chip: New Chatbot Project Centered On Streamlining.”

LA’s chipper new employee is a chatbot named Chip (pun intended) that stands for “City Hall Internet Personality.”  Developed by Microsoft, Chip assists people through the Los Angeles Business Assistance Virtual Network (BAVN).  “He” has helped more than 180 people in twenty-four hours and answered more than 1400 queries.  So far Chip has researched contract opportunities, search for North American Industry System codes, and more.

Chip can be trained to “learn,” and has already been backloaded with knowledge more than tripling his answer base from around 200 to roughly 700 questions. He “curates” the answers from what he knows.  Through an extensible platform and Application Program Interface (API) programming, the bot can connect to any data or back-end system…and in the future will likely take on new languages.

Chip’s developers are well aware that voice-related technology coupled with artificial intelligence is the way most computers appear to be headed.  Users want a sleeker interaction between themselves and a computer, especially as life speeds up.  Natural-sounding conversation and learning are the biggest challenges for AI, but companies like Bitext that develop the technology to improve computer communication are there to help.

Whitney Grace, May 16, 2017

Alexa Pairs up with Established Lock Company for Smart Deadbolt

The article on Digital Trends titled Protecting Your Home is Easier Than Ever With This Alexa-Connected Smart Lock tells the story of Schlage, an Allegion brand establishes nearly 100 years ago, and its leap into voice activation technology through a partnership with Amazon Alexa. What will this mean for users? No more keys, remote control over your locks, and enhanced alarms in case of unwelcome visitors. The article states,

Smart home technology is all about incrementalism, whether it’s consumer adoption or brands integrating with mega-technology platforms,” said Rob Martens, futurist and vice president of strategy and partnerships at Allegion. “Schlage is committed to providing the ultimate security and convenience, and we are proud to now integrate with Alexa to provide consumers with added convenience through Alexa-enabled devices.

The convenience and security of the system will be a selling point for people who are forgetful and for people who worry about safety. There is an anti-pick shield to prevent tampering with the lock, and the option of choosing and tracking up to 30 individual codes that can be customized to specific times. Smart houses will soon be full of people sleeping soundly, assured that Alexa has their backs— and their locks.

Chelsea Kerwin, May 10, 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?

Vishal Ingole, May 9, 2017

Voice Controlled Drones Rule the Skies

Drones are a cool annoyance.  They allow people to take cool videos and photos, but they invade airspace and can also violate people’s privacy.  While drones are controlled by a remote control, they also have vocal command capabilities.  Cisco Blogs shares that speech-controlled drones are on the rise in the post, “Speech-Controlled Drones And Bots For Enterprise.”  Most of the information on the Internet about speech-enabled drones is for individual hobby enthusiasts, but Cisco is working on building enterprise capable drones and incorporates it into its Autonomous Systems Application Platform.

Cisco is aware that the market is fresh for drones that are compatible with enterprise security, reliability, and scalability that will respond to voice and gesture to commands.  Visit the link to the article and you will see a chart that explains how enterprise drones could work:

Cisco’s Karan Sheth collaborated with Built.io’s Nishant Patel and team to create a collection of enterprise-class, speech-controlled bots. As described in the diagram above, a user’s arbitrary speech or Spark commands were delivered to Cisco’s private cloud environment over Built.io’s cloud and secure enterprise gateway infrastructure. Once inside the secure infrastructure, even the smallest of hardware like Raspberry Pi could execute intended workflow commands without worrying about security or access control.

The same probable workflow would also work for sensors, robots, workflows, scripts, and other AI tools.  An interchangeable network that can be tooled for any new voice-enabled tool, including the new Amazon Alexa and Google Home, is opening a whole new market of possibilities for people to work and interact with their environments.

Whitney Grace, May 4, 2017

 

Get to a Better State with Alexa

Just as you did not think that Amazon had invaded all available markets, it now moves into insurance.  Fin Tech shares that insurance company Allstate and Amazon have joined forces to integrate Allstate’s services into Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant read about it in the story, “Allstate Adds Amazon Alexa Capability.”

It seems that more and more services are moving to cloud-based computing.  With new digital assistants, getting information and connecting to services is only a question away. Amazon Alexa is offering customers a way to connect with potential clients via the cloud and Allstate is taking advantage of the new technology.

By integrating itself into Amazon Alexa, current and new Allstate customers will be able to connect to an agent and look up their insurance bill.  Allstate already has a track record for technological innovations and Amazon Alexa integration was the next logical venue.  Allstate will be a new skill that users will be able to download onto their Amazon Echo:

Allstate identified opportunities for customers and consumers to utilize voice assistant capabilities to receive information from a local agent. Customers can enable the Allstate skill from the Skills section of the Amazon Alexa app. Once the Allstate skill is enabled, customers can invoke the skill by saying, ‘Alexa, ask Allstate…’ and find an Agent using zip code search, find their Agent’s contact information, or when their auto insurance bill is due.

The next step should be allowing Allstate customers to pay their bill via Alexa and adding new services onto their plans.  Other insurance agencies will probably be following Allstate’s example as the market slides more towards digital assistants.

Whitney Grace, May 3, 2017

Hello Moto Alexa

Motorola makes its smartphones known with its ad campaign.  A sexy, European woman spouts the phrase: “hello moto” to give Motorola smartphones a mysterious, edgy vibe.  The European woman should start saying, “hello Alexa,” because Amazon Alexa will be a new accessory to the phone.  Wireless and Mobile News shares that, “Moto To Mod With Amazon Alexa + Integrate Alexa With All Smartphones.”

Other than the simple catchphrase, Moto phones are known for their add-on accessories dubbed Moto Mods.  Moto Mods snap onto the back of Motorola phones with magnets and enhance the phones abilities.  The Mods are such things as a battery power pack, a camera lens, and a projector.  Amazon Alexa will be a new Mod, which will be available later this year for the Moto Z model.  What will the Mod Alexa do?

With the Amazon Alexa Moto Mod, you can do daily tasks while on the go, such as controlling your smart home, checking the news, ask for Uber, and other Amazon Alexa skills using your voice. For example, when you start your commute home, you can ask Alexa to adjust your home’s temperature so it’s comfortable when you get there. Or, you can buy something from Amazon Prime without a computer or smartphone. You can also say, “Alexa, enable Feel-Goodies” and then any time when say “Alexa, do Feel-Goodies” she will say something to help you feel better about yourself.

The Alexa Mod will always be on so that it will be able to listen to user commands.  This will, of course, put extra strain on the battery life and will require the phone to be unlocked at all times.  Motorola phones are known for their battery longevity and the Alexa Mod might even have some battery recharging capabilities.

The bigger concerns come with security, but also later this year, as Moto further integrates Alexa into its system, the phone will not need to be unlocked.

Security and privacy will be an increasing concern as Alexa and Google Home devices become more popular.   Do hackers already have ways to vocally command these digital assistants to share a user’s personal information?  Perhaps the hackers and the digital assistants only whisper to each other.

Whitney Grace, May 2, 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