CES 2020: Early Days of AI Assistants Challenge Adoption

Moderated by Digital Trends editor-in-chief Jeremy Kaplan, a CES panel of three experts discussed the evolution of digital assistants, embedded both in devices and humanoid robots. Front Porch president Kari Olson, who is also chief innovation & technology officer, noted that, “at this point in time, we’re all toddlers” when it comes to our understanding of how to interact with digital assistants. Her company has created “possibility rooms” that enable consumers to test out devices embedded with AI assistants. Continue reading CES 2020: Early Days of AI Assistants Challenge Adoption

The Dark Side of Big Tech’s Accumulation of Power, Wealth

Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are valued together at $4+ trillion, with the six surviving founders of four of these companies worth $450 billion, noted Forbes, adding that these valuations have quintupled since 2009. The technology coming out of these companies has also been powerful, from smartphones to ride-sharing. Currently, tech accounts for seven of the top 10 worldwide companies by market cap. This wealth accumulation hasn’t been seen since Standard Oil at the turn of the 20th Century. Continue reading The Dark Side of Big Tech’s Accumulation of Power, Wealth

Amazon Licenses Original Interactive Audio Series for Alexa

Amazon has inked an exclusive license for “Tala’s World,” a seven-episode young adult adventure series produced by audio startup Xandra, which has produced Alexa skills for HBO, Sesame Workshop and Ubisoft. In the new adventure series, listeners help elf-like character Blobby find his missing best friend Tala by making decisions, collecting clues, and interrogating suspects. Available exclusively on Alexa, Amazon recently released the first episode and plans to release the second episode on December 13. Continue reading Amazon Licenses Original Interactive Audio Series for Alexa

The Human Interface: What We Expect From AI at CES 2020

We’re not going to lie: the annual “heads up CES” piece on artificial intelligence is a major exercise in hit or miss. This is because technology rarely evolves on an annual time scale, and certainly not advanced technology like AI. Yet, here we are once again. Sure, 2019 was as fruitful as it gets in the AI research community. The raw debate between Neural Networks Extremists (those pushing for an “all neural nets all the time” approach to intelligence) and the Fanatical Symbolists (those advocating a more hybrid approach between knowledge bases, expert systems and neural nets) took an ugly “Mean Girl” turn, with two of the titans of the field (Gary Marcus and Yann LeCun) trading real insults on Twitter just a few days ago.  Continue reading The Human Interface: What We Expect From AI at CES 2020

Amazon Unveils New IoT Devices for On-the-Go Consumers

Amazon is strategically moving its Alexa digital voice assistant into a wide range of products, for use in many settings. Among the newly introduced smart products powered by Alexa are earbuds, a ring, eyeglass frames and even a lamp. The idea, said Amazon hardware head Dave Limp, is to allow Alexa to follow the consumer throughout her day, via such smart lifestyle devices. To enable this, Amazon also debuted its own low bandwidth 900MHz network, Amazon Sidewalk, to connect Internet of Things devices. Continue reading Amazon Unveils New IoT Devices for On-the-Go Consumers

Amazon Forms Coalition for Voice Assistant Interoperability

Amazon created the Voice Interoperability Initiative to achieve software compatibility among digital voice assistants, encouraging its widespread adoption. Although 36 companies have joined the initiative, Apple and Google have not. Their absence is a significant impediment to the initiative’s goals, since Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant software are installed by default in most of today’s smartphones. Amazon’s Alexa, meanwhile, has no presence on smartphones, although its Echo speakers are a hit with consumers. Continue reading Amazon Forms Coalition for Voice Assistant Interoperability

Amazon, Apple Research How to Improve Digital Assistants

Apple researchers investigated what people really want in a digital assistant, finding that people deem an assistant “likeable” and “trustworthy” when it mirrored their own degree of chattiness. It also found that the features that make up mirroring can be extracted from the user’s speech patterns. Amazon researchers conducted a project that found Alexa can figure out what a user wants via so-called dialogue state tracking, in which it estimates and keeps tabs on a person’s goals throughout a conversation. Continue reading Amazon, Apple Research How to Improve Digital Assistants

GM to Feature Google Apps and Voice Assistant in Vehicles

General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker by sales, plans to build Google’s apps into its vehicles’ touchscreen displays. Beginning with model year 2022, GM brands Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC will feature Google Maps, Google Assistant and the Google Play app store, accessible on the vehicles’ dashboard displays. Today’s car buyers have expressed interest in an experience similar to what is available with their mobile devices, but not all automobile integration has proven satisfying. The automaker aims to create a more positive experience, with plans to eventually make infotainment systems powered by Android available on millions of its vehicles sold worldwide. Continue reading GM to Feature Google Apps and Voice Assistant in Vehicles

BBC Is Creating Voice Assistant That Understands Accents

The BBC is developing a voice assistant named Beeb that it promises will understand British accents. Other virtual assistants have struggled with regional accents, but the BBC team will be recording staff voices from multiple U.K. locations to address that issue. While there are no plans to introduce a standalone CE device similar to Google Home or Amazon Echo, the BBC plans to debut Beeb next year to help people interact with online services offered via the company’s website and its smart TV iPlayer app. The assistant’s software will also be available to manufacturers interested in including it in their own consumer devices. Continue reading BBC Is Creating Voice Assistant That Understands Accents

Google Assistant Wins Top Spot in Loup Ventures IQ Test

In Loup Ventures’ 2019 Digital Assistant IQ Test, comprised of 800 questions, Google Assistant came in first, understanding 100 percent of the questions and answering 92.9 percent of them accurately. Last year, Google Assistant, also top-ranked, answered 85.5 percent correctly. Apple’s Siri also improved, understanding 99.8 percent of the questions (versus 2018’s 99 percent) and correctly answering 83.1 percent of the time (versus 2018’s 78.5 percent). Amazon’s Alexa came in third. Continue reading Google Assistant Wins Top Spot in Loup Ventures IQ Test

New Reports Reveal Unsettling Facts About Voice Assistants

Microsoft reports that 41 percent of those using voice assistants are concerned about “trust, privacy and passive listening.” Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, the major voice assistant providers, rely on humans to review collected voice data — although most people are unaware of this. Bloomberg also delved into Amazon’s Alexa team following a report that the company reviews audio clips from commands. Five employees familiar with the program revealed they can “in some cases easily find a customer’s home address.” Continue reading New Reports Reveal Unsettling Facts About Voice Assistants

Google and Amazon Use AI to Improve Speech Recognition

Google’s artificial intelligence researchers made an unexpected discovery with its new SpecAugment data augmentation model for automatic speech recognition. Rather than augmenting input audio waveforms, SpecAugment applies augmentation directly to the audio spectrogram. Researchers discovered, to their surprise, that models trained with SpecAugment out-performed all other speech recognition methods, even without a language model. Amazon also revealed research on improving Alexa’s speech recognition by 15 percent. Continue reading Google and Amazon Use AI to Improve Speech Recognition

Industry Panel on Latest AI Trends in Media & Entertainment

Overcoming the uncanny valley of emotion is the major challenge of AI when creating a virtual human, according to Armando Kirwin, co-founder of Artie. He spoke at the NAB panel titled “AI in Media and Entertainment: Driving the Future, New Content Formats – Immersive.” HP’s Joanna Popper moderated the panel that also included Digital Domain’s John Canning, Lillian Diaz-Przybyl from Butcher Bird Studios, and Baobab Studios’ Kane Lee. The panel discussion ranged from synthetic characters and evolving views on acceptable versus realistic behavior, to what happens when your smart speaker becomes a virtual character. Continue reading Industry Panel on Latest AI Trends in Media & Entertainment

Amazon Taking Alexa Digital Assistant Mobile With Earbuds

Amazon is reportedly planning to release wireless earbuds with built-in Alexa support as early as this year, according to those with knowledge of the project. The new wearable will be similar to Apple’s popular AirPods, and fit inside the user’s ear without clips, but Amazon team members at the company’s Lab126 hardware division are working on improving the audio quality. Users will be able to interact with the earbuds via voice and summon the digital assistant by saying “Alexa.” Pricing has not been revealed, but AirPods run $159 to $199, and Amazon has consistently charged less than competitors for its hardware. Continue reading Amazon Taking Alexa Digital Assistant Mobile With Earbuds

Audible, Chooseco Team on Interactive Tales via Alexa Skill

Amazon’s Audible and Chooseco have collaborated on two new “choose your own adventure” children’s audiobooks. Available on Amazon Alexa-enabled devices via Chooseco’s Choose skill, “The Abominable Snowman” and “Journey Under the Sea,” designed by the two teams, feature professional voice actors and can be navigated by voice commands. The two stories together offer 65 different endings and, on Alexa devices with screens, show illustrations for story beats. Decision-making points in the story are signaled by a sound. Continue reading Audible, Chooseco Team on Interactive Tales via Alexa Skill

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