Tag: Alexa

The rise and rise of the femme bots

Wednesday, 22 February, 2017 0 Comments

Joanna Stern, writing in The Wall Street Journal: Alexa, Siri, Cortana: The Problem With All-Female Digital Assistants. Snippet:

“You get the point: The virtual assistants popping up in our lives sound overwhelmingly female. ‘I’m female in character,’ Amazon’s Alexa responds if you ask her if she is a woman. In their own clever ways Google, Apple and Microsoft’s voice assistants will tell you they’re genderless…in unmistakably womanlike voices.

As femme bot after femme bot has invaded our phones , speakers, cars, TVs — even our refrigerators — I’ve been left wondering: Where the man bots at? And why do these hunks of plastic and electronics need to be assigned a gender at all? My Amazon Echo doesn’t have any reproductive organs.”

Apple’s Siri, by the way, is the only one of this bunch of bots with a male voice option: “Siri may default to a female voice in the U.S. but Apple provides both male and female voice options for iPhone and iPad users to choose from. In fact, on iPhones where the language is Arabic, French, Dutch or British English, Siri defaults to a male voice.”

Men and women may prefer female voices for their digital assistants, @WSJ writes, but adds, “it’s about time we had more male options.”


RAISR Sharp Images with Machine Learning

Monday, 6 February, 2017 0 Comments

Rapid and Accurate Image Super-Resolution is a bit of a mouthful so we should welcome the acronym: RAISR. What it means is that machine learning is used to sharpen low-resolution images. Google, which provided the headline for this post, claims that RAISR is so fast that the process can run in real-time on a mobile device. Nerds love this kind of thing, but photographers should be pleased as well because RAISR can avoid aliasing artifacts in the final image, even when artifacts exist in the low-resolution original.

RAISR

Note: Google says it will expand RAISR beyond Android over the coming months and in his recent post on the future of phones, Mobile 2.0, Benedict Evans pointed out the role machine learning will play in the coming changes…

“Web 2.0 was followed not by anything one could call 3.0 but rather a basic platform shift, as the iPhone triggered the move from desktop to mobile as the centre of tech. AirPods, Spectacles, watches and Alexa also reflect or perhaps prefigure platform shifts. In some of them, on one hand, one can see the rise of machine learning as a fundamental new enabling technology, and in some, on the other hand, more and more miniaturisation and optimisation of computing. I think one can see quite a lot of hardware building blocks for augmented reality glasses in some of Apple’s latest little devices, and AR does seem like it could be the next multi-touch, while of course machine learning is also part of that, as computer vision and voice recognition.”


Yahoo and the end of Web 1.0

Thursday, 28 July, 2016 1 Comment

More than a billion people now check Facebook on their phones every single day. The social network revealed this new milestone last night when it released its impressive second-quarter earnings. What’s that got to do with Yahoo and the headline on this post? Well, context is important. Consider these stats:

Facebook now owns a $17-billion-a-year mobile ad business. In the second quarter, mobile sales made up 84 percent of its $6.24 billion in advertising revenue. Overall, the social network reported $2.05 billion in profit, up 186 percent year-over-year, on $6.43 billion in total revenue, which rose 59 percent compared to the same period last year. And Facebook ended the second quarter with 1.71 billion monthly active users.

Which brings us to Yahoo, which was was acquired on Monday by an American telephone company, Verizon, which paid $4.8 billion for the brand and its internet properties. The cause of this ignominious end was simple: Yahoo became irrelevant for adults quite some time ago, and young people don’t use it at all. They spend their time now on Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Spotify and Facebook.

Yahoo’s major missed opportunity was the rise of the mobile web. That failure had a lot to do with the short stint as CEO of Scott Thompson, who departed in a cloud of controversy. Distracted by its internal troubles, the company took its eye off the ball, as it were, at a critical moment. Thompson was replaced in July 2012 by Marissa Mayer, who bought Tumblr for a billion dollars in an attempt to attract younger internet users. A blogging platform is not what the yoof wanted, though.

Note: Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $1 million and Facebook for $1 billion.

The new benchmark is that more than a billion people check Facebook on their phones every day. The old benchmark was Yahoo’s directory of websites and this week began with the purchase of the gravestone. Yahoo belongs, with the rotary phone, to another era, and its departure marks the end of Web 1.0. Those riding high on the Web 2.0 wave now should remember, however, that “the bubble fame” does burst and voice-based interfaces on devices such as Amazon’s Alexa are moving the web beyond browsers and smartphones. Blink, and you miss it. Yahoo fell asleep and its legacy includes happy memories of the “Site of the Day” feature. The web was young then. It’s mobile now.


Buongiorno! Amazon’s wake words in Italy

Wednesday, 27 July, 2016 0 Comments

Amazon apre un nuovo centro di sviluppo per l’intelligenza artificiale e il Machine Learning a Torino. That was the welcome news for Italy’s battered economy earlier this week. Translation: “Amazon to open a new artificial intelligence and machine learning development centre in Turin.” The charming capital of Piedmont will soon be home to a batch of software engineers and linguists developing machine learning capabilities for Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based data and analytics service. This sentence in the press release stood out:

“Alexa usa l’apprendimento automatico in campi come il rilevamento delle parole di attivazione, il riconoscimento vocale basato sul cloud e la comprensione del linguaggio naturale.”

Question: How does one translate parole di attivazione? The available online Italian-English dictionaries are not up to the job and Google Translate offers “words activation” as its best shot. Close, but no cigar. In fact, parole di attivazione are “wake words”. Eh?

Amazon Echo To understand the function of wake words, get an Amazon Echo. This hands-free speaker connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide news, sports scores and weather forecasts. When you want to use your Echo, speak the word “Alexa” and the device comes to life instantly. That’s the “wake word”. If you have more than one Echo, you can set a different wake word for each. You can pick “Amazon” or “Echo” as the wake word. And that’s it. Why the paucity of wake words? Well, according to Veton Kepuska, author of Wake-Up-Word Speech Recognition, the challenge is to:

“Detect a single word or phrase when spoken in an alerting context, while rejecting all other words, phrases, sounds, noises and other acoustic events with virtually 100% accuracy including the same word or phrase of interest spoken in a non-alerting (i.e. referential) context.”

See the problem? In its search for usable wake words, Alexa needs ones that are not only easy to pronounce and remember, but are also rare enough that they’re not even used at the start of sentences. Very tricky. As things stand, it’s doubtful Echo owners will be able to choose their own wake word for a long, long time to come. The best hope of the Turin project is that the team there will create an expanded list of words that are unlikely to lead to too many false wakes. No false dawns. No hurry, in other words.

Turin is an ideal location for this venture. It’s the home of the slow food movement.