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

Beyond Search Evolution Underway

March 1, 2017

Today we are introducing changes to Beyond Search. We are approaching 10 years of daily publication and in that time enterprise search and content processing has undergone a significant change. Enterprise search is no longer exciting. In fact, a number of companies have pivoted to different services. Search has become for many a utility at best or a ho-hum solution. Web search has degraded to the lowest common denominator of generating revenue via ads. The handful of “objective” Web search systems walk a perilous cliff edge between paying their bills and providing an index to a subset of publicly accessible content. We will continue to cover important items in Beyond Search, but we are shifting our focus to products and services related to voice-centric information access.

The Beyond Alexa blog is in its formative stages. We have started to flow content into this new service. It will include Augmentext-type stories (for information follow the link), special articles, short videos on voice related topics, and inclusions (a fancy word for sponsored content or in my lingo, ads with information value). The idea is that Alexa has become an interesting product niche, but the impact of voice-related information access is now changing rapidly. Frankly it is more dynamic than the decades old keyword search business.

You can view the alpha version of Beyond Alexa at this link. As we ramp up the service, we will have other announcements about the service. We passed the 15,000 article milestone in Beyond Search last year. Since early 2008, we have tracked the keyword centric approach to finding and making sense of information. Our changing focus reflects the fact that I wrote about years ago in Searcher Magazine. Keyword search linked to a keyboard, if not dead, was headed for marginalization.

That’s why we want to explore “beyond” Alexa, Amazon’s odd little voice activated box which does a bang up job of providing the temperature and almost friction free impulse shopping. We think there’s more “beyond” Alexa. We want to explore the new world of ubiquitous and Teflon-slick  information access.

Stephen E Arnold, March 1, 2017

Chan and Zuckerberg Invest in Science Research Search Engine, Meta

March 1, 2017

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have dedicated a portion of their fortune to philanthropy issues through their own organization, the Chan Zuckerberg InitiativeTech Crunch shares that one of their first acquisitions is to support scientific research, “Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Acquires And Will Free Up Science Search Engine Meta.”

Meta is a search engine dedicated to science research papers and it is powered by artificial intelligence.  Chan and Zuckerberg plan to make Meta free in a few months, but only after they have enhanced it.  Once released, Meta will help scientists find the latest papers in their study fields, which is awesome as these papers are usually blocked behind paywalls.  What is even better is that Meta will also assist funding organizations with research and areas with potential for investment/impact.  What makes Meta different from other search engines or databases is quite fantastic:

What’s special about Meta is that its AI recognizes authors and citations between papers so it can surface the most important research instead of just what has the best SEO. It also provides free full-text access to 18,000 journals and literature sources.

Meta co-founder and CEO Sam Molyneux writes that “Going forward, our intent is not to profit from Meta’s data and capabilities; instead we aim to ensure they get to those who need them most, across sectors and as quickly as possible, for the benefit of the world.

CZI invested $3 billion dedicated to curing all diseases and they already built the Biohub in San Francisco for medical research.  Meta works like this:

Meta, formerly known as Sciencescape, indexes entire repositories of papers like PubMed and crawls the web, identifying and building profiles for the authors while analyzing who cites or links to what. It’s effectively Google PageRank for science, making it simple to discover relevant papers and prioritize which to read. It even adapts to provide feeds of updates on newly published research related to your previous searches.

Meta is an ideal search engine, because it crawls the entire Web (supposedly) and returns verified information, not to mention potential research partnerships and breakthroughs.  This is the type of database researchers have dreamed of for years.  Would CZI be willing to fund something similar for fields other than science?  Will they run into trouble with other organizations less interested in philanthropy?

Whitney Grace, March 1, 2017

Dark Web Drug Dealers Busted in Finland

March 1, 2017

Law enforcement’s focus on the Dark Web seems to be paying off, as we learn from the write-up, “Finland: Dark Web Drug Operation Exposed” at Hetq, an outlet of the Association of Investigative Journalists. In what was described as Finland’s largest drug bust, authorities seized over a million dollars’ worth of narcotics from a network selling their wares on the Dark Web. We learn:

The network is alleged to have imported €2 million (US$ 2.2 million) worth of drugs between 2014 and 2016, selling them on the dark web site Silkkitie. More than 40 kilograms of powdered narcotics, such as amphetamine, heroin and cocaine, as well as 40,000 ecstasy tablets and 30,000 LSD blotters were smuggled into Finland from the Netherlands and Germany, and then sold on the site. …

As part of the investigation, customs officers in April seized at least €1.1 million worth of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and ecstasy in the coastal town of Kustavi. The same month, police arrested three Finnish citizens.

The write-up notes that Silkkitie users communicated through encrypted messages under pseudonyms, and that Bitcoin was the currency used. We’re also reminded that Silkkitie, a.k.a. Valhalla, is one of the Dark Web’s most popular drug marketplaces. The Finnish site was launched in 2013.

Cynthia Murrell, March 1, 2017

Companies As Countries: Facebook Plans for Its Social Nation State

February 26, 2017

I read some of the Facebook manifesto. About half way through the screed I thought I was back in a class I audited decades ago about alternative political structures. That class struck me as intellectual confection, a bit like science fiction in 1962. The Facebook manifesto shared some ingredients, but it is an altogether different recipe for a new type of political construct. Facebook, not Google, is the big dog of information control. Lots of folks will not be happy; for example, traditional “real” journalists who want to pull the info-yarn and knit their vision of the perfect muffler and other countries who want to manage their information flows.

I thought about my “here we go again” reaction when I read “Facebook Plans to Rewire Your Life. Be Afraid.” Sorry, I am not afraid. Maybe when I was a bit younger, but 74 years of “innovative” thinking have dulled my senses. The write up which is from the “real” journalism outfit Bloomberg is more sensitive than I am. If you are a Facebooker, you will be happy with the Zuck’s manifesto. If you are struggling to figure out what is going on with hundreds of millions of people checking their “friends” and their “likes,” you will want to read the “real news” about Facebook.

Spoiler: Facebook is a new type of country.

The write up “reports”:

Facebook — launched, in Zuckerberg’s own words five years ago, to “extend people’s capacity to build and maintain relationships” — is turning into something of an extraterritorial state run by a small, unelected government that relies extensively on privately held algorithms for social engineering.

Yep, the same “we can do it better” thinking has infused many other high technology companies. Some see the attitude as arrogance. I see the approach as an extension of a high school math team. No one in the high school cares that much about the boys and girls who do not struggle to understand calculus. Those in the math club know that the other kids in the school just don’t “get it.”

The thinking has created some nifty technology. There’s the GOOG. There’s Palantir. There’s Uber. No doubt these companies have found traction in a world which seems to lack shared cultural norms and nation states which seem to be like a cookie jar from which elected officials take handfuls of cash.

The write up points out:

As for the “rewired” information infrastructure, it has helped to chase people into ideological silos and feed them content that reinforces confirmation biases. Facebook actively created the silos by fine-tuning the algorithm that lies at its center — the one that forms a user’s news feed. The algorithm prioritizes what it shows a user based, in large measure, on how many times the user has recently interacted with the poster and on the number of “likes” and comments the post has garnered. In other words, it stresses the most emotionally engaging posts from the people to whom you are drawn — during an election campaign, a recipe for a filter bubble and, what’s more, for amplifying emotional rather than rational arguments.

The traditional real journalists are supposed to do this job. Well, that’s real news. The New York Times wants to be like Netflix. Sounds great. In practice, well, the NYT is a newspaper with some baggage and maybe not enough cash to buy a ticket to zip zip land.

The real news story makes an interesting assertion:

It’s absurd to expect humility from Silicon Valley heroes. But Zuckerberg should realize that by trying to shape how people use Facebook, he may be creating a monster. His company’s other services — Messenger and WhatsApp — merely allow users to communicate without any interference, and that simple function is the source of the least controversial examples in Zuckerberg’s manifesto. “In Kenya, whole villages are in WhatsApp groups together, including their representatives,” the Facebook CEO writes. Well, so are my kids’ school mates, and that’s great.

But great translates to “virtual identify suicide.”

The fix? Get those billion people to cancel their accounts. Yep, that will work in the country of Facebook. I am, however, not afraid. Of course, I don’t use Facebook, worry about likes, or keep in touch with those folks from that audited class.

From my point of view, Facebook and Google to a lesser extent have been chugging along for years. Now the railroad want to lay new track. Your farm in the way? Well, there is a solution. Build the track anyway.

Stephen E Arnold, February 26, 2017

How to Quantify Culture? Counting the Bookstores and Libraries Is a Start

February 7, 2017

The article titled The Best Cities in the World for Book Lovers on Quartz conveys the data collected by the World Cities Culture Forum. That organization works to facilitate research and promote cultural endeavors around the world. And what could be a better measure of a city’s culture than its books? The article explains how the data collection works,

Led by the London mayor’s office and organized by UK consulting company Bop, the forum asks its partner cities to self-report on cultural institutions and consumption, including where people can get books. Over the past two years, 18 cities have reported how many bookstores they have, and 20 have reported on their public libraries. Hong Kong leads the pack with 21 bookshops per 100,000 people, though last time Buenos Aires sent in its count, in 2013, it was the leader, with 25.

New York sits comfortably in sixth place, but London, surprisingly, is near the bottom of the ranking with roughly 360 bookstores. Another measure the WCCF uses is libraries per capita. Edinburgh of all places surges to the top without any competition. New York is the only US city to even make the cut with an embarrassing 2.5 libraries per 100K people. By contrast, Edinburgh has 60.5 per 100K people. What this analysis misses out on is the size and beauty of some of the bookstores and libraries of global cities. To bask in these images, visit Bookshelf Porn or this Mental Floss ranking of the top 7 gorgeous bookstores.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 7, 2017

Bradley Metrock and the Alexa Conference: Alexa As a Game Changer for Search and Publishing

February 2, 2017

Bradley Metrock, Score Publishing, organized The Alexa Conference held in January 2017. More than 60 attendees shared technical and business insights about Amazon’s voice-search enabled device. The conference recognized the opportunity Amazon’s innovative product represents. Keyword search traditionally has been dependent on a keyboard. Alexa changes the nature of information access. An Alexa owner can talk to a device which is about the size of a can of vegetables. Alexa is poised to nudge the world of information access and applications in new directions.

Bradley Metrock, Score Publishing, organized The Alexa Conference in January 2017. An expanded event is in the works.

After hearing a positive review of the conference, its speakers, and the programming event, I spoke with Mr. Metrock. The full text of the interview appears below:

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

Delighted to do it.

What path did you follow to arrive at The Alexa Conference?

A somewhat surprising one. My background is in business, but I’ve always been keenly interested in publishing.  It’s fascinating how the world of publishing has been ripped open by technology, allowing us as a society to shed gatekeepers and hear more stories from more people than we ever would have otherwise. In 2013, when I was in the process of selling a business, I discovered Apple’s iBooks Author software.  I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t talking about it.  It was such a gift: the ability to create next-generation, interactive and multimedia digital books that could be sold on Apple hardware (iPads at first, then later iPhones) all for no cost.  The software was completely free. I formed Score Publishing, published books using iBooks Author, and organized the annual iBooks Author Conference which all sorts of people attend from all over the world.  It’s been fun.

Where does Alexa fit into your interest in publishing books?

I approached Alexa at first from the standpoint of digital content creators: What do they need to get out of this tool?  And out of the Internet of Things, in general?

Do you have an answer to this question about using Alexa as an authoring tool?

No, not yet. My long-term ambition with Alexa is to produce authoring tools for it that allow content creators to leverage their content effectively in an audio-only environment.  Not just audio books, but the creation of voice-enabled applications around published works, from books to white papers and so forth.

What is needed to make it easy for an author or developer to leverage Amazon’s remarkable device and ecosystem?

That’s a good question. The first step toward doing that is learning Alexa myself and incorporating it into what Score Publishing already does.  To that end, we decided to put on the first-ever Alexa Conference. We experienced directly the incredible value in bringing communities of people together on the iBooks Author side of things.  We saw the same exact things with the just-completed Alexa Conference and can’t wait to do it again next January. In fact, we’re already planning it.

What were some of the takeaways for you from The Alexa Conference?

I think Amazon has opened an entirely new world with Alexa that perhaps even they didn’t fully appreciate at first.  Alexa puts voice search in the home. But far from just new ways to buy products or services, Alexa allows every computing interface that exists today to be re-imagined with greater efficiency, while also creating greater accessibility to content than ever before.  My eyes were opened in a big way.

Can you give me an example?

I can try, but it’s hard for me to even begin to explain, being relatively new to the technology and the ideas that Alexa (and IoT in general) bring to the table, but a good place to start is the summary from the first Alexa Conference.  This report gives a taste of the topics and ideas covered.

One of the most interesting events at The Alexa Conference was the programming of an Alexa skill. You called it the Alexathon, right?

Yes, and it was fascinating to watch the participants at work and then experience what they created in less than 24 hours. Developers are red-hot for this technology and are eager to explore its full potential.  They understand these are the early days, just like it was a decade ago with iOS apps for the iPad and iPhone. They see, in my opinion, a combination of opportunity and necessity in being part of it all.

What was the winning Alexa skill?

The winner was Xander Morrison, the Digital Community Coordinator at Sony Music’s Provident Label Group. It took Morrison just 24 hours to create his Nashville Tour Guide as an Alexa skill.

How does Alexa intersect with publishing?

I think the publishing industry doesn’t really understand the implications of the internet of things on its business. Companies like HarperCollins, whom I invited to be part of The Alexa Conference, sent Jolene Barto to the conference. She described how her company built an Alexa skill for one of the company’s most important markets. Her remarks sparked a lively question-and-answer session. HarperColllins seems to be one of the more proactive publishers in the Alexa space at this time.

Is it game over for Google and the other companies offering Alexa-type products and services?

No. I think it is the dawn of the voice enabled application era. Right now, it looks as if Alexa has a clear lead. But the Internet of Things is a very dynamic technology trend. The winner will probably be the company which creates tools.

What do you mean tools?

Software and system that make it easy for digital content to flow into it and be re-purposed in new and exciting ways.

Is this an opportunity for you and Score Publishing?

Yes. As I mentioned earlier, this is an area I want Score Publishing involved in. We may create some of the tools to help bridge the gap for content creators. Many authors and publishers have no interest in learning how to code. Alexa and the competing products do not make it easy for authors and publishers to get their content into the ecosystem all the same.

Google has a competing product and recently updated it. What’s your view of Google with regard to Alexa?

Google is definitely in the fray with Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana. Also, there are several other less well known competitors. Amazon’s primary advantage is how early Amazon opened up Alexa to third-party development.  Alexa’s other advantages include the sheer marketing reach of Amazon. I learned at the conference that Amazon has done a great job in promoting promoting its hardware, from the Echo, Tap, and Dot. Now the the Amazon Kindle has Alexa baked into the device. Amazon has, in contrast to Apple and Google, demonstrated its willingness to spend significant dollars to advertise both Alexa and Alexa-enabled hardware.

However, Google has something Amazon doesn’t–search data.  And Apple has the dominant mobile device.  So there are advantages these other companies can bring to bear in competing in this space.  I want to point out that Amazon has its shopping data, and its Alexa team will find ways to to leverage its consumer behavior data as Alexa evolves over time.

What are your ideas for The Alexa Conference 2018?

Yes. We will be having another The Alexa Conference in January 2018. The event will be held in Nashville, Tennessee. We want to expand the program. We hope to feature topic and industry-specific sub-tracks as well. If your readers want to sign up, we have Super Early Bird passes available now. There is a limited supply of these. We expect to announce more information in the next month or so.

How can a person inte4reserted in The Alexa Conference and Score Publishing contact you?

We have a number of de-centralized websites such as the iBooks Author Conference, the iBooks Author Universe (a free online learning resource for iBooks Author digital publishing) and now, the Alexa Conference.  Following us on Twitter at @iBAConference and @AlexaConf is a great idea to stay in the know on either technology, and to reach me, people can email me directly at Bradley@AlexaConference.com.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Stephen E. Arnold, February 2, 2017

Rise of Fake News Should Have All of Us Questioning Our Realities

January 31, 2017

The article on NBC titled Five Tips on How to Spot Fake News Online reinforces the catastrophic effects of “fake news,” or news that flat-out delivers false and misleading information. It is important to separate “fake news” from ideologically-slanted news sources and the mess of other issues dragging any semblance of journalistic integrity through the mud, but the article focuses on a key point. The absolute best practice is to take in a variety of news sources. Of course, when it comes to honest-to-goodness “fake news,” we would all be better off never reading it in the first place. The article states,

A growing number of websites are espousing misinformation or flat-out lies, raising concerns that falsehoods are going viral over social media without any mechanism to separate fact from fiction. And there is a legitimate fear that some readers can’t tell the difference. A study released by Stanford University found that 82 percent of middle schoolers couldn’t spot authentic news sources from ads labeled as “sponsored content.” The disconnect between true and false has been a boon for companies trying to turn a quick profit.

So how do we separate fact from fiction? Checking the web address and avoiding .lo and .co.com addresses, researching the author, differentiating between blogging and journalism, and again, relying on a variety of sources such as print, TV, and digital. In a time when even the President-to-be, a man with the best intelligence in the world at his fingerprints, chooses to spread fake news (aka nonsense) via Twitter that he won the popular vote (he did not) we all need to step up and examine the information we consume and allow to shape our worldview.

Chelsea Kerwin, January 31, 2017

Where to Sell Cyber-Centric Software and Services

January 20, 2017

The Lost Angeles Times published “A Look at the 17 Agencies That Make Up the U.S. Intelligence Community.” My hunch is that the “real” journalists thought that the list would be “real” news. I scanned the information and noted:

  • No useful urls were provided
  • Where to track funding and new project announcements was not included
  • Specific information about the objectives of each entity was omitted
  • The sub entities associated with the principal intelligence entity; for example, Strategic Capabilities Office.

What is the list? Well, if a small outfit in Orange County wants to sell its products and services to the US government’s “intelligence’ entities, the list provides a starting point for research.

The article could have been become a useful way to stimulate outfits not participating in these agencies’ projects to get the ball rolling. The write up contains one useful thing—a list of agencies which blurs the role of the Department of Defense and omits some interesting entities:

Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
Army Military Intelligence
Central Intelligence Agency
Coast Guard Intelligence
Defense Intelligence Agency
Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of National Security Intelligence
Energy Department, Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Homeland Security, Office of Intelligence and Analysis
Marine Corp Intelligence
National Geospatial Intelligence Agency
National Reconnaissance Office
National Security Agency
Office of Naval Intelligence
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
State Department, Bureau of Intelligence and Research
Treasury Department, Office of Intelligence and Analysis

My hunch is that the “real” newspaper is revealing the vapidity of its editorial method. But, hey, I live in rural Kentucky and don’t understand the ways of the big city folks.

Stephen E Arnold, January 20, 2017

About Twitter: Kill It, Kill It Now

January 14, 2017

I am not sure what to make of “It’s Time to Kill Twitter, Before It Kills Us.”  I understand how drone swarms can kill. I grasp the notion of fungibles doing bad in airport baggage claim. But I had not considered the idea that sending short digital messages would kill “us.”

The write up explained to me:

The best thing you might say about Twitter is that it’s become the new micro press release—a way for the famous and powerful to promote, with as little effort as possible, their next project, product or random thought.

Twitter, therefore, can trigger people to do bad things. Therefore, kill Twitter.

The logic is obviously rock solid for some folks.

The write up continued:

From its founding, Twitter never had a purpose.

Okay, new media have no purpose. Interesting notion, particularly when viewed in the context of the tradition of communication methods.

But Twitter might be tough to kill. The write up pointed out:

Twitter might prove harder to get rid of than raccoons at a campsite. The company is still worth nearly $12 billion. It still has around 300 million monthly users. And it still has Trump, so if anyone tried to shutter it, he’d probably step in and classify Twitter as essential to our national security and install Ivanka to run it.

Fascinating. The question is, “Is the write up humorous like the Beyond Search weekly video news program, or is the write up making clear that certain types of communication must be stopped?”

News week or news weak?

Stephen E Arnold, January 14, 2017

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