Siri Becomes Smarter and More Human

June 20, 2017

When Apple introduced Siri, it was a shiny, new toy, but the more people used it they realized it was a dumb digital assistant.  It is true that Siri can accurately find a place’s location, conduct a Web search, or even call someone in your contact list, but beyond simple tasks “she” cannot do much.  TechCrunch reports that Apple realizes there is a flaw in their flagship digital assistant and in order to compete with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and even Windows Cortana they need to upgrade Siri’s capabilities, “Siri Gets Language Translation And A More Human Voice.”

Apple decided that Siri would receive a big overhaul with iOS 11.  Not only will Siri sound more human, but also the digital assistant will have a female and male voice, the voice will become clearer ability to answer more complex, and even better, a translation application:

Apple is bringing translation to Siri so that you can ask the voice assistant how do say a certain English phrase in a variety of languages, including, at launch, Chinese, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Apple has changed their view of Siri.  Instead of it being a gimmicky way to communicate with a device, Apple is treating Siri as a general AI that extends a device’s usage.  Apple is making the right decision to make these changes.  For the translation aspect, Apple should leverage tools like Bitext’s DLAP to improve the accuracy.

Whitney Grace, June 20, 2017

What to Do about the Powerful Tech Monopolies

June 14, 2017

Traditionally, we as a country have a thing against monopolies—fair competition for the little guy and all that. Have we allowed today’s tech companies amass too much power? That seems to be the conclusion of SiliconBeat’s article, “Google, Facebook, and Amazon: Monopolies that Should be Broken Up or Regulated?” Writer Ethan Baron summarizes these companies massive advantages, and the efforts of regulatory agencies to check them. He cites a New York Times article by Jonathan Taplin:

Taplin, in his op-ed, argued that Google, Facebook and Amazon ‘have stymied innovation on a broad scale.’ With industry giants facing limited competition, incumbent companies have a profound advantage over new entrants, Taplin said. And the tech firms’ explosive growth has caused massive damage to companies already operating, he said. ‘The platforms of Google and Facebook are the point of access to all media for the majority of Americans. While profits at Google, Facebook and Amazon have soared, revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business have, since 2001, fallen by 70 percent,’ Taplin said. The rise of Google and Facebook have diverted billions of dollars from content creators to ‘owners of monopoly platforms,’ he said. All content creators dependent on advertising must negotiate with Google or Facebook as aggregator. Taplin proposed that for the three tech behemoths, there are ‘a few obvious regulations to start with.’

Taplin suggests limiting acquisitions as the first step since that is how these companies grow into such behemoths. For Google specifically, he suggests regulating it as a public utility. He also takes aim at the “safe harbor” provision of the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which shields Internet companies from damages associated with intellectual property violations found on their platforms. Since the current political climate is not exactly ripe for regulation, Taplin laments that such efforts will have to wait a few years, by which time these companies will be so large that breaking them up will be the only remedy. We’ll see.

Cynthia Murrell, June 14, 2017

Make Your Amazon Echo an ASMR Device

June 7, 2017

For people who love simple and soothing sounds, the Internet is a boon for their stimulation.  White noise or ambient noise is a technique many people use to relax or fall asleep.  Ambient devices used to be sold through catalogs, especially Sky Mall, but now any sort of sound can be accessed through YouTube or apps for free.  Smart speakers are the next evolution for ambient noise.  CNET has a cool article that explains, “How To Turn Your Amazon Echo Into A Noise Machine.”

The article lists several skills that can be downloaded onto the Echo and the Echo Dot.  The first two suggestions are music skills: Amazon Prime Music and Spotify.  Using these skills, the user can request that Alexia finds any variety of nature sounds and then play them on a loop.  It takes some trial and error to find the perfect sounds to fit your tastes, but once found they can be added to a playlist.  An easier way, but might offer less variety is:

One of the best ways to find ambient noise or nature sounds for Alexa is through skills. Developer Nick Schwab created a family of skills under Ambient Noise. There are currently 12 skills or sounds to choose from:

  • Airplane

  • Babbling Brook

  • Birds

  • City

  • Crickets

  • Fan

  • Fireplace

  • Frogs

  • Ocean waves

  • Rainforest

  • Thunderstorms

  • Train

Normally, you could just say, “Alexa, open Ambient Noise,” to enable the skill, but there are too many similar skills for Alexa to list and let you choose using your voice. Instead, go to alexa.amazon.com or open the iOS or Android app and open the Skills menu. Search for Ambient Noise and click Enable.

This is not a bad start for ambient noises, but the vocal command adds its own set of problems.  Amazon should consider upgrading their machine learning algorithms to a Bitext-based solution.  If you want something with a WHOLE lot more variety to check out YouTube and search for ambient noise or ASMR.

Whitney Grace, June 7, 2017

Amazon Answers Artificial Intelligence Questions

May 24, 2017

One big question about Amazon is how the company is building its artificial intelligence and machine learning programs.  It was the topic of conversation at the recent Internet Association’s annual gala, where Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, discussed it.  GeekWire wrote about Bezos’s appearance at the gala in the article, “Jeff Bezos Explained Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence And Machine Learning.”

The discussion Bezos participated in covered a wide range of topics, including online economy, Amazon’s media overage, its business principles, and, of course, artificial intelligence.  Bezos compared the time we are living in to the realms of science fiction and Amazon is at the forefront of it.  Through Amazon Web Services, the company has clients ranging from software developers to corporations.  Amazon’s goal is make the technology available to everyone, but deployment is a problem as is finding the right personnel with the right expertise.

Amazon realizes that the power of its technology comes from behind the curtain:

I would say, a lot of the value that we’re getting from machine learning is actually happening beneath the surface. It is things like improved search results. Improved product recommendations for customers. Improved forecasting for inventory management. Literally hundreds of other things beneath the surface.

This reminds me of Bitext, an analytics software company based in Madrid, Spain.  Bitext’s technology is used to power machine learning beneath many big companies’ software.  Bitext is the real power behind many analytics projects.

Whitney Grace, May 24, 2017

Battle in the Clouds

April 10, 2017

The giants of the tech world are battling fiercely to dominate the Cloud services industry. Amazon, however is still at the pole position being the first entrant, followed by Microsoft, Google and IBM.

The Street in an in-depth report titled How Amazon, Microsoft, Google and IBM Battle for Dominance in the Cloud says:

Amazon Web Services, or AWS, is the indisputable leader, with a breadth of services and clients ranging from blue chips such as Coca Cola (KO) and General Electric (GE) to app-economy stalwarts like Netflix (NFLX), Tinder and Lyft. Microsoft and Google are closing the features gap, even if they are far behind on market share.

So far, these technology giants are fighting it out in cornering the IaaS market. Amazon with AWS clearly dominates this space. Microsoft, because of its inherent advantage of B2B software already running across major corporations has it easy, but not easy enough to topple Amazon. Google and IBM are vying for the remaining market share.

Apart from IaaS, PaaS is going to be the next frontier on which the Cloud battles will be fought, the report states. Consolidation is a distant possibility considering the fact that the warriors involved are too big to be acquired. With most services at par, innovation will be the key to gain and sustain in this business.

Vishal Ingole, April 10, 2017

Whither the Tech Industry Under Trump Administration?

March 30, 2017

The Silicon-Valley-based tech industry has done quite well under the Obama administration, we’re reminded in the Hill’s article, “Tech’s Power Shifts as Obama fades to Trump.” Lobbying efforts by internet companies have escalated over the past eight years, catching up to the traditional telecommunications industry. Writers Ali Breland and David McCabe quote a mysterious source:

‘Everybody is amazed by Google’s sort of cozy relationship with the White House,’ said one communications industry insider who asked to remain anonymous. ‘They don’t even try to hide it.’

Ah, dear Google. What now?

The writers cite Noah Theran, of the Internet Association—a group that represents Google, Twitter, and Amazon—as they emphasize the importance of working closely with government. If policy makers don’t understand what is happening in the tech industry, it will be nigh impossible for them to regulate it sensibly.

To complicate matters, apparently, these upstart internet companies have ruffled the feathers of the old-school telecoms, who seem to believe the FCC and Obama administration unfairly favored their new rivals, Google in particular. The article continues:

The tension wasn’t always present. Silicon Valley at one point had famously dismissed Washington, D.C., assessing that it could be the new capital of change in the U.S. That attitude shifted as the tech industry saw a greater need to work with Washington. A touchstone was the Justice Department antitrust suit against Microsoft. After having to appeal an initial order to break into two separate business, Microsoft quickly learned that it needed to have a Washington, D.C. presence if it wanted to preemptively ease regulatory problems later on. …

Trump’s presidency may change how the battles play out for the next four to eight years, however. Trump has had a rockier relationship with some tech companies, including Apple. He at one point during the campaign suggested a boycott of the company’s products over its encrypted phone.

Hoo boy. Hang on to your hats, technology-supporters; this could be a bumpy ride.

Cynthia Murrell, March 30, 2017

Take the Time for Alexa

March 6, 2017

In the new digital assistant line up, Alexa responds better than Cortana and Siri, because it can provide better and more intelligent services that the smartphone based app.  As an Amazon product, as with Amazon Web Services, developers can learn how to build apps and other products for Alexa.  The question is how to get started?  HeroTurko created a learning tutorial for interested Alexa developers and it can be checked out at, “Amazon Alexa Development From Beginner To Intermediate.”

Voice-based apps are a growing sector in the technology industry and will only get bigger as the demand for voice-controlled technology increases.  The tutorial is designed to teach developers how to design voice apps and then launch them on the Amazon Echo.  Building your Alexa skills is a necessary step, so the course says, to get an edge on the voice app market:

The biggest industries in technology are surrounded by AI, Bots, and Voice technology. Voice technology I believe will be the new 21st user interface that will not only understand basic commands, but will be so smart to understand anything you tell it. This is why Amazon is making a big bet with Alexa, which it plans to generate close to $11 billion dollars by 2020. They know something about Amazon Echo, which is why now is the best time to learn these skills before the mainstream starts developing applications. We all know the story about apps for the smartphones, this is the same thing.

This course contains over 50 lectures and 1.5 hrs of content. It’s designed for beginners to play with new platforms in the voice space. You’ll learn the tools needed to build the Alexa Skills, how Alexa Skills work, and publish a skill to Amazon’s Alexa store.

Learning how to use Alexa is the precursor to designing other voice app and will probably segway into NLP.  If you want to learn where the IT market is going beyond machine learning and artificial intelligence, this is one of the places to start.

Whitney Grace, March 6, 2017

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