Will Mobile Be Microsoft Downfall in AI Field?

January 12, 2018

We are startled to see Computerworld levy such a blow to Microsoft, but here we go— see their article, “The Missing Link in Microsoft’s AI Strategy.” Writer Preston Gralla insists that the company’s weakness lies in mobile tech—and it could prove to be a real problem as Microsoft competes against the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon in the growing field of AI. Galla acknowledges Microsoft’s advantages here—its vast quantities of valuable data and its AI system, Cortana, already built into Windows. However, she writes:

Microsoft is missing something very big in A.I. as well: a significant mobile presence. Google and Apple, via Android and iOS, gather tremendous amounts of useful data for their A.I. work. And gathering the data is just the starting point. Hundreds of millions of people around the world use the A.I.-powered Siri, Google Assistant and Google Now on their mobile devices. So Google and Apple can continue to improve their A.I. work, based on how people use their devices. Given that the future (and to a great extent, the present) is mobile, all this means serious problems for Microsoft in A.I. A.I. is likely a big part of the reason that Microsoft kept Windows Phone on life support for so many years, spending billions of dollars while it died a slow, ugly, public death.

The article outlines a few things Microsoft has been doing to try to catch up to its rivals, like developing (little-used) versions of Cortana for iOS and Android, working with hardware makers on Cortana-powered speakers, and partnering with Amazon’s Alexa for any tasks Cortana is not quite up to (yet). Will this need to play catch-up seriously hamper Microsoft’s AI prominence? We shall see.

Cynthia Murrell, January 12, 2018

A Look at Chinese Search Engine Sogou

December 25, 2017

An article at Search Engine Watch draws our attention to one overseas search contender—“What Do You Need to Know About Chinese Search Engine Sogou?” Sogu recently announced terms for a proposed IPO, so writer Rebecca Sentance provides a primer on the company. She begins with some background—the platform was launched in 2004, and the name translates to “searching dog.” She also delves into the not-so-clear issue of where Sogu stands in relation to China’s top search engine, Baidu, and some other contenders for the second-place, so see the article for those details.

I was interested in what Sentance writes about Sogou’s use of AI and natural language search:

It also plans to shift its emphasis from more traditional keyword-based search to answer questions, in line with the trend towards natural language search prompted by the rise of voice search and digital assistants. Sogou has joined major search players such as Bing, Baidu and of course Google in investing in artificial intelligence, but its small size may put it at a disadvantage. A huge search engine like Baidu, with an average of more than 583 million searches per day, has access to reams more data with which to teach its machine learning algorithms.

But Sogou has an ace up its sleeve: it is the only search engine formally allowed to access public messages on WeChat – a massive source of data that will be particularly beneficial for natural language processing. Plus, as I touched on earlier, language is something of a specialty area for Sogou, as Sogou Pinyin gives it a huge store of language data with which to work. Sogou also has ambitious plans to bring foreign-language results to Chinese audiences via its translation technology, which will allow consumers to search the English-speaking web using Mandarin search terms.

The article wraps up by looking at Sogou’s potential effect on search markets; basically, it could have a large impact within China, especially if Baidu keeps experiencing controversy. For the rest of the world, though, the impact should be minimal. Nevertheless, this is one company worth keeping an eye on.

Cynthia Murrell, December 25, 2017

Report Assesses Todays Voice Assistant Landscape

November 2, 2017

Having observed the recent boom in AI-powered voice-assistant products, Business Insider’s research service, BI Intelligence, has conducted a study on the issue. The site promotes their findings in their preview, “The Voice Assistant Landscape Report.” Writer Jessica Smith begins with an overview of recent developments: AI has become more accurate; mobile networks are more powerful; and smart appliances (aka the “internet of things”) supply more opportunities for voice-command control. By 2015, she reports, 65% of those with smartphones in the U.S. used voice assistants with those devices. Also, sales of Google Home and Amazon Echo are expected to triple this year, to 24.5 million units. Still, we’re told there remain significant obstacles, both social and technical, to widespread adoption just yet.

Smith shares some findings from the report. Among them:

Technological advances are making voice assistants more capable. These improvements fall into two categories: improvements in AI, specifically natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning; and gains in computing and telecommunications infrastructure, like more powerful smartphones, better cellular networks, and faster cloud computing.

Changes in consumer behavior and habits are also leading to greater adoption. Chief among these are increased overall awareness and a higher level of comfort demonstrated by younger consumers.

The voice assistant landscape is divided between smartphone- and speaker-based assistants. These distinctions, while important now, will lose relevance in the long run as more assistants can be used on both kinds of devices. The primary players in the space are Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Samsung’s Viv.

Stakes in the competition for dominance in the voice assistant market are high. As each assistant becomes more interconnected with an ecosystem of devices that it can control, more popular platforms will have a sizable advantage.

Naturally, the article concludes by telling us how to get our hands on the full report. You could invest in the BI Intelligence “All-Access” pass if you are really, really into research reports. Or, you could just purchase and download this particular report here for $495.

Cynthia Murrell, November 2, 2017


Gaze into the Search Crystal Ball

August 17, 2017

The way we consume Internet content has drastically changed.  We are no longer tethered to hulking desk top computers, instead we can browse the Web as easily as drive a car.  It goes without saying that the way we search and consume content will change.  We have already seen changes, such as more ads appearing on movie, social media, and news Web sites.  Google Answers and Google My Business are also affecting how we access content without needing to visit a Web site. Entrepreneur shares predictions for search and content in the article, “How Changes To The Way We Search Will Impact Businesses.”

While the majority of us still type our search queries, the rise of digital assistants has made vocal search gain traction.  Vocal search means that we are using natural language to ask digital assistants queries.  This is actually better for search results, because we tend to simplify questions when we talk and search engines like simple search queries.  Digital assistants also change how we interact/consume our information.  Instead of delving into the results ourselves, we rely on a third-party device to provide it to us.  It will also change how we shop, especially if Amazon or another shopping site has a digital assistant.

Users are also seeking out an “everything-in platform,” where all the services they need from payments, shopping, and even ordering a sandwich are in one application.

Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP don’t take users too far away from the originating platform source, enabling them to return to whatever they were doing before something caught their eye. Solutions like Facebook Store integrate products for an in-platform shopping experience, tightening the gap between product discovery and purchase, while directing users away from Google’s fairly limitless shopping mall of possibilities.

Hyper-personalization might be the creepiest and have the most impact.  Search engines already gather information about us from our queries and then target us with related ads.  However, it can get even worse with beacon technology that can track and recommend services/products to us based on a store we just visited or where we are traveling too.  It will be the capitalist version of Big Brother.

Whitney Grace, August 17, 2017

Watson Does Whiteboards

July 24, 2017

A write-up at Helge Scherlund’s eLearning News describes a very useful tool in, “World’s Smartest Active Virtual Meeting Assistant Ricoh.” The tool integrates the IBM Watson AI into an interactive whiteboard system. The press release positions the tool as the future of meetings, but we wonder whether small businesses and schools can afford these gizmos. The write-up includes a nine-minute promotional video that describes the system, so interested readers should check it out. We’re also given a list of key features.

*Easy-to-join meetings: With the swipe of a badge the Intelligent Workplace Solution can log attendance and track key agenda items to ensure all key topics are discussed.


*Simple, global voice control of meetings: Once a meeting begins, any employee, whether in-person or located remotely in another country, can easily control what’s on the screen, including advancing slides, all through simple voice commands.


*Ability to capture side discussions: During a meeting, team members can also hold side conversations that are displayed on the same Ricoh interactive whiteboard.


*Translation of the meeting into another language: The Cognitive Whiteboard can translate speakers’ words into several other languages and display them on screen or in transcript.

I suppose one feature here may also be a thorn in the side of some old-school business people—the system creates a transcript of everything said in each meeting, including side conversations, and sends it to each participant. Auto CYA. The process would take some getting used to, but we can see the advantages for many organizations. Headquartered in Tokyo, Ricoh’s history stretches back to 1936.

Cynthia Murrell, July 24, 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

The Voice of Assistance Is Called Snips

June 22, 2017

Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa are the most well known digital assistants, but there are other companies that want to get the same recognition.  Snips is a brand new (relatively) company with the byline: “Our Mission Is To Make Technology Disappear By Putting An AI In Every Device.”  It is a noble mission to enable all technological devices with tools to make our lives better, easier, and more connected.  How did their story begin?

Snips was founded in 2013 as a research lab in AI. Through our projects, we realized that the biggest issue of the next decades was the way humans and machine interact. Indeed, rather than having humans make the effort to use machines, we should use AI to make machines learn to communicate with human. By making this ubiquitous and privacy preserving, we can make technology so intuitive and accessible that it simply disappears from our consciousness.

Snips offer their digital assistant for enterprise systems and it can also be programmed for other systems that need an on-device voice platform, using state of the art Deep Learning.  Snips offer many features, including on-device natural language understanding, customizable hotwords, on device automatic speech recognition, cross-platform, and it is also built using open source technology.

Snips also have their own unique bragging right: they are the only voice platform that is GDPR compliant.  GDPR is a new European regulation mean to protect an individual’s privacy more on connected devices.  If Snips wants to reach more clients in the European market, they might do well partnering with Spain-based Bitext, a company that specializes in linguistic analytics.

Whitney Grace, June 22, 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

Will the Smartest Virtual Assistant Please Stand Up?

June 16, 2017

The devices are driving sales. However AI-powered virtual assistants are far from perfect. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and Cortana are good for basic questions on weather, radio stations, and calendars. But when it comes to complicated questions, all fail.

MarketWatch in an article titled This Is the Smartest Virtual Assistant — and It’s NOT Siri, or Alexa says:

A number of factors will shape the market moving forward, including changes in consumers’ comfort over the security and collection of private data, the progress of natural language processing and advances in voice interface functionalities, and regulatory requirements that could alter the market.

A survey revealed that none of the virtual assistants tested was able to answer 100% of questions (let alone attempt them). Virtual assistants that attempted to answer them were not answering the questions correctly. Google was at the top of the heap while Siri was the last.

The article also points out that people want complicated questions answered rather than the simpletons that these virtual assistants answer. It seems, the days of perfect virtual assistants are still far away. Till then, Google search engine is the best bet (the survey says so)

Vishal Ingole, June 16, 2017

AI Decides to Do the Audio Index Dance

June 14, 2017

Did you ever wonder how search engines could track down the most miniscule information?  Their power resides in indices that catalog Web sites, images, and books.  Audio content is harder to index because most indices rely on static words and images.  However, Audioburst plans to change that says Venture Beat in the article, “How Audioburst Is Using AI To Index Audio Broadcasts And Make Them Easy To Find.”

Who exactly is Audioburst?

Founded in 2015, Audioburst touts itself as a “curation and search site for radio,” delivering the smarts to render talk radio in real time, index it, and make it easily accessible through search engines. It does this through “understanding” the meaning behind audio content and transcribes it using natural language processing (NLP). It can then automatically attach metadata so that search terms entered manually by users will surface relevant audio clips, which it calls “bursts.”

Audioburst recently earned $6.7 million in funding and also announced their new API.   The API allows third-party developers to Audioburst’s content library to feature audio-based feeds in their own applications, in-car entertainment systems, and other connected devices.  There is a growing demand for audio content as more people digest online information via sound bytes, use vocal searches, and make use of digital assistants.

It is easy to find “printed” information on the Internet, but finding a specific audio file is not.  Audioburst hopes to revolutionize how people find and use sound.  They should consider a partnership with Bitext because indexing audio could benefit from advanced linguistics.  Bitext’s technology would make this application more accurate.

Whitney Grace, June 14, 2017

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