Google Assistant Is Connected to 5,000 Smart Home Devices

Google revealed that its AI-powered Google Assistant is now connected to more than 5,000 smart devices in the home, up from 1,500 such devices in January. Among the devices now controlled by Google Assistant are air conditioners, cameras, security systems, thermostats, vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Google faces stiff competition in the smart home arena, most notably from Amazon Alexa, Apple’s HomeKit and Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Samsung’s SmartThings and Bixby. Now the rivals must convince consumers to buy the devices. Continue reading Google Assistant Is Connected to 5,000 Smart Home Devices

Changes to Facebook News Feed Plan to Curb Misinformation

Under pressure from lawmakers, regulators, and some of its two billion monthly active users to fight misinformation, Facebook is tweaking how information is presented on its News Feed. Users in the U.S. will now be able to easily see a news publisher’s Wikipedia page along with a given story and can see how frequently it’s been shared on the social network. Facebook is under renewed criticism following reports that Cambridge Analytica “improperly accessed data on millions of Facebook users,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

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Google’s Machine-Generated Speech Will Sound More Human

According to members of Google’s Brain and Machine Perception teams, researchers at the tech giant have developed “ways to make machine-generated speech sound more natural to humans,” even providing examples of the more expressive speech in a company blog post, reports VentureBeat. Google also announced the release of its Cloud Text-to-Speech services, which could “be used to bring more natural speech to devices, apps or digital services that utilize voice control or voice computing,” the article explains.

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IBM’s New Watson Assistant Helps Develop Virtual Assistants

With the launch of Watson Assistant, IBM is offering a new service that helps companies build their own voice-activated virtual assistants (like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri). The new service aims to help companies that want to build these for their own products, using their own datasets. IBM’s pitch includes a belief that companies should want Watson Assistant rather than a competitor because it allows for heightened personalization and privacy. According to IBM, Watson Assistant keeps the data to itself, differentiating it from other virtual assistants.

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Amazon Envisions Alexa as a Universal Language Translator

You may soon be able to command “Alexa, Translate” and get sophisticated results. According to sources familiar with the matter, Amazon’s latest aim for Alexa, its popular voice-enabled assistant, is to become a real-time universal language translator. They say the tech giant is “seriously exploring” ways to make Alexa more useful cross-culturally. In order to do so, Amazon must significantly expand Alexa’s current ability to translate basic words and phrases in languages including Spanish, German, French and Italian.

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Reviews: Apple HomePod Offers Great Sound But Not Smarts

Apple’s HomePod smart speaker has debuted to mixed reviews. HomePod can stream music directly from Apple Music but no other popular music streaming service such as Spotify or Pandora. It’s equally partisan in that, despite its Bluetooth, users must use Apple’s own AirPlay to stream the music, and Android phones aren’t able to pair with it. The Home app lets users set up and control a variety of HomeKit-compatible smart home devices. The system currently lacks the ability to link HomePods together for a multi-room setup. Continue reading Reviews: Apple HomePod Offers Great Sound But Not Smarts

Apple Announces Launch Date of Delayed HomePod Speaker

Apple’s wireless smart speaker HomePod will hit shelves February 9, with pre-orders starting this Friday in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. The device was delayed from its intended December launch, costing Apple sales during the recent holiday shopping season. The voice-activated speaker will compete with market leaders Amazon Echo and Google Home devices. At $349, the HomePod is priced more than $200 higher than the current market leaders, but on par with the $400 Google Home Max. Apple is emphasizing the device’s “stunning sound quality” for playing music. Continue reading Apple Announces Launch Date of Delayed HomePod Speaker

Amazon Enters the Workplace with Bow of Alexa for Business

Amazon, which currently dominates the virtual assistant market with its Echo speaker, is now launching Alexa for Business. With Alexa for Business, offices could potentially use the voice-enabled assistant to take care of numerous tasks. It’s a leap of faith since it is still unproven how many businesses would want to install an Echo in every conference room, design relevant programs or even want their employees talking to devices. Companies might also have concerns about sensitive internal information being in the cloud. Continue reading Amazon Enters the Workplace with Bow of Alexa for Business

Apple Planning AR Headset by 2020 and New ARKit by 2018

As early as 2020, Apple plans to ship an augmented reality headset that will have its own display and rely on a new chip and operating system, say knowledgeable sources. Apple chief executive Tim Cook considers AR to have the potential to be as revolutionary as the smartphone. By working on an AR solution, Apple joins Google, which is working on a business-oriented version of its previously launched Google Glass. Startup Meta is another company that has developed an AR headset, for use in education and medicine. Continue reading Apple Planning AR Headset by 2020 and New ARKit by 2018

Samsung Integrates Viv Labs Tech into AI Assistant Bixby 2.0

Today, Samsung’s AI assistant Bixby can respond to a few commands and interact with a few apps and services. However, the new Bixby 2.0 will integrate technology from Viv Labs, which Samsung acquired a year ago for $215 million. Viv co-creators Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus previously created Siri prior to being acquired by Apple. Bixby 2.0, which will be available on devices including Samsung Smart TVs and Family Hub refrigerators, will be able to interact with more services and in a more sophisticated manner. Continue reading Samsung Integrates Viv Labs Tech into AI Assistant Bixby 2.0

Amazon Intends to Rule the Smart Home With Alexa Devices

Amazon is making a big push to be everywhere in the smart home, which is why its devices are relatively inexpensive: the new Amazon Echo is $99.99, Echo Plus is $149.99, Echo Spot is $129.99 and the new Fire TV stick is $69.99. The company is betting on being ubiquitous enough in homes to become the de facto standard for smart home devices — in essence, a new operating system. Proof that Amazon is playing a long game is the Echo Plus, which with a single command could turn off the lights, lock the door and turn off the TV. Continue reading Amazon Intends to Rule the Smart Home With Alexa Devices

Amazon Launches Alexa on Music Apps to Attract New Users

Amazon, ranked third in streaming music, launched virtual assistant Alexa on its Amazon Music apps this week to better compete with No. 1 provider Spotify and No. 2-ranked Apple. Amazon Music will provide a button which users can push to access Alexa “play” commands that will work as they do on Echo. Amazon determined that Alexa is now the primary way that users listen to Amazon Music. Competitor Apple offers its virtual assistant Siri on Apple Music. Meanwhile, Google has decided to stop supporting the Amazon Echo Show on YouTube. Continue reading Amazon Launches Alexa on Music Apps to Attract New Users

Apple’s Innovative Chips Ready to Lead in AR, AI, Wearables

The new iPhone X offers several new features, but none of them more innovative than the neural engine that is part of Apple’s new A11 Bionic SoC processor. Artificial neural networks, which excel at processing images and speech, are behind the phone’s ability to recognize the user’s face to unlock it, transfer facial expressions onto Animoji (animated emoji), and other, as-of-yet unspecified features. As Apple moves into augmented reality and image recognition, the neural engine will likely be central to these endeavors. Continue reading Apple’s Innovative Chips Ready to Lead in AR, AI, Wearables

Sony, Harman Kardon and JBL Debut New Smart Speakers

At the Berlin trade show IFA this year, manufacturers showed smart speakers that incorporate voice assistants from Amazon and Google. Sony debuted its LF-S50G, one of the first third-party products, including Google Assistant and offering 360-degree sound and a digital clock, due out in December for $200. Another rival is the $250 Harman Kardon Allure, which offers Amazon’s Alexa and features ambient lighting that keeps the music’s beat. In addition, JBL’s new LINK series features three wireless speakers with Google Assistant and Chromecast support. Continue reading Sony, Harman Kardon and JBL Debut New Smart Speakers

Amazon, Microsoft Partner to Connect Their Voice Assistants

In a competitive landscape, Amazon and Microsoft are forming a rare partnership to enable communication between their respective voice assistants, Alexa and Cortana. This will allow users to summon Cortana using Alexa and vice versa, by the end of 2017. Chief executives Jeff Bezos and Satya Nadella made the move because of their concern that keeping digital assistants in a walled garden could hold back their progress, and that, by facilitating communication between them, end users could enjoy each one’s unique strengths. Continue reading Amazon, Microsoft Partner to Connect Their Voice Assistants

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