Google and Microsoft AI Missteps

August 14, 2017

I read an interesting article called “Former Microsoft Exec Reveals Why Amazon’s Alexa Voice Assistant Beat Cortana.” The passage I noted as thought provoking was this one:

Qi Lu, formerly a Microsoft wizard and now a guru at Baidu allegedly said in this passage from the Verge’s article:

Lu believes Microsoft and Google “made the same mistake” of focusing on the phone and PC for voice assistants, instead of a dedicated device. “The phone, in my view, is going to be, for the foreseeable future, a finger-first, mobile-first device,” explains Lu. “You need an AI-first device to solidify an emerging base of ecosystems.”

Apparently Lu repeated what I think is a key point:

“The phone, in my view, is going to be, for the foreseeable future, a finger-first, mobile-first device,” explains Lu. “You need an AI-first device to solidify an emerging base of ecosystems.”

Several questions occurred to me:

  1. Do Google and Microsoft share a similar context for evaluating high value technologies? Perhaps these two companies are more alike in how they see the world than Amazon?
  2. Are Google and Microsoft reactive; that is, the companies act in a reflexive manner with regard to figuring out how to apply a magnetic technology?
  3. Is Amazon’s competitive advantage an ability to think about an interesting technology in terms of the technology’s ability to augment an existing revenue stream and open new revenue streams?

I don’t have the answer to these questions. If Lu is correct, Amazon has done an end run around Google and Microsoft in terms of talking to gizmos. Can Amazon sustain its technological momentum? With Microsoft floundering with Windows 10 and hardware reliability, it is possible that its applied research is mired in the Microsoft management morass. Google, on the other hand, has its hands full with Amazon taking more product search traffic at a time when Google has to figure out how to solve emotional, political, and ideological issues. Need I say “damore”?

Stephen E Arnold, August 14, 2017

Lest Chinese Conglomerates Forget

August 4, 2017

Alphabet, the parent company of Google last week was fined $2.7 billion for abusing its position in search engine results. This should provide Chinese companies with global ambitions a precursor on what lies ahead for them.

In an editorial published by China Daily and titled Google’s Fine a Reminder, the author says:

Fining of Google should remind Chinese enterprises intent on going global that they should abide by local laws and regulations to avoid possible economic losses resulting from any malpractices and wrongdoings.

China is a closed ecosystem where Google, Facebook, Apple, or Amazon have absolute no dominance unlike in rest of the economies. Here, homegrown companies rule the roost. However, with burgeoning profits fuelled by domestic consumption, the Chinese companies are looking to expand to other markets.

With a reputation of lofting rules, Google getting fined by EU regulators should tell Chinese companies if they break the law of the land, expect being penalized, heavily.

Vishal Ingole, August 4, 2017

Seriously, Siri? When Voice Interface Goes Wrong

July 17, 2017

The article on Reddit titled Shower Thoughts offers some amusing moments in voice interfaces, mainly related to Siri switching on when least expected. Most of the anecdotes involve the classroom environment either during lecture or test time. Siri has a tendency to check in at the worst possible time, especially for people who are not supposed to be on their phone. For example,

My friend thought it would be funny to change my name on my phone to Sexy Beast, unfortunately I was later sitting in a biology lecture of about 150 people when Siri said loudly “I didn’t quite get [that] Sexy Beast.”…I keep thinking about shouting “Hey Siri, call Mum” whilst in the middle of a house party, and then watch how many people frantically reach for their phones!

For the latter hypothetical, other users pointed out that it would not work because Siri is listening for the voice of the owner. But we have all experienced Siri responding when we had no intention of beckoning her. If you use certain words like “seriously” or “Syria,” she often awkwardly pops into the conversation. One user relates that a teacher asked the class for the capital city of China, and while the class sat in silence, Siri correctly responded, “Beijing.” In this case, Siri earned a better grade. Other people report Siri spilling the beans during exams when cheaters try to keep their phones nearby. All in a day’s work.

Chelsea Kerwin, July 17, 2017

Standard EBooks Pleases Bibliophiles

July 10, 2017

Volunteer and not for profit organization Standard EBooks has released a large collection of public domain books in digital format that is free for all.

According to their own website Standard EBooks, the organization says:

Standard Ebooks takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style guide, lightly modernizes them, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to take advantage of state-of-the-art ereader and browser technology.

In recent past, The Library of Congress also has thrown open its doors to the Internet to explore its vast collection of books in digital format. The major issue with most digital libraries, however, is its search capabilities. Apart from digitizing the books and literature, organizations should also concentrate on easy search capabilities. Are Google, Amazon, and Apple listening?

Vishal Ingole, July 10, 2017

Google, Microsoft Trail Amazon AWS Success

June 28, 2017

Is it now impossible for any fourth company to claw their way to the top of the cloud? Amazon’s AWS is still way ahead in the hosted-services game, but Google’s CloudPlatform and Microsoft’s Azure are also flourishing,  we learn from  “AWS, Google, and Microsoft Cement Their Cloud Dominance” at InfoWorld. Writer Matt Asay observes:

[AWS is] redefining enterprise IT forever, with everyone else having to sprint to catch up to its torrid pace of innovation and price cuts. Interestingly, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud appear to be doing exactly that. … The market is consolidating around the big three cloud vendors, and it may be too late to add a fourth.

 

Though both Microsoft and Google have yet to break out their respective cloud revenue numbers (they’re not required to until it represents 5 percent of their overall company revenue), both reported big increases for 2016. Microsoft’s Azure revenue grew 95 percent in constant currency, and while Google didn’t report revenue or growth numbers, it suggested it had ‘significant momentum’ in the year, a claim made more believable by deals like Snap’s ($2 billion over five years for Google Cloud services). The problem for Microsoft and Google is that AWS isn’t slowing down. If anything, it’s accelerating.

Ah, lively competition. Asay emphasizes that much of Amazon’s success has occurred because they were able to reduce prices while increasing functionality. That is indeed a difficult combination to beat. Google or Microsoft may be in the position to pull off an upset, perhaps with some remarkable feat of innovation. Fourth place and below may be wise to pursue revenue streams outside the hosting field.

Cynthia Murrell, June 28, 2017

Apple Lovers Demand Their Own Talking Speaker

June 27, 2017

Google and Amazon dominate the intelligent speaker market and it is about to get more crowded.  Marketing Land reports on a recent Morning Consult survey that showed how Apple lovers would like their own talking speaker: “Survey: Amazon Echo, Google Home Onwers ‘Very Interested’ In Apple HomePod.”  Morning Consult surveyed 2,000 US consumers and discovered that one third of them are interested the Apple HomePod and 45 percent are Apple users.

Even more surprising among the results is that the consumers who are the most interested to use an Apple HomePod already own the competing devices.  There are more interesting numbers:

According to the survey, the following were the rankings of variables, “among those who said [the] feature was ‘very important’ when considering a voice-controlled assistant:

57% Price

51% Speaker/audio quality

49% Accuracy of device’s voice recognition

44% Compatibility with devices you may already own, such as your smartphone

30% Access to a variety or music streaming services

29% Ability for device to integrate with other services or platforms, such as controlling smart light bulb

29% Brand that manufactures the device21% Aesthetics or look of the device

Is this an indicator that the Apple cult will win over the home digital assistant market?  It might, but Amazon is still favored among consumers and might be the biggest contender because of the shopping connection and the price.  The accuracy of the HomePod’s voice recognition is very important to consumers, especially when Siri fails to understand.  Bitext could improve Apple, Google, and Amazons’ digital assistants when it comes to natural speech recognition.

Whitney Grace, June 27, 2017

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

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