Could Machines Save Our Humanity? πŸ€–β™₯οΈπŸ‘€

The typical fear is that technology is eroding our ability to interact with other humans and generally turning humanity into a race to the bottom. Judging by social media, I can’t say that fear is misplaced. But is it the only possibility? πŸ€”

I am intrigued by this notion that voice assistants could help us “recover” from the effects of screened supercomputers in our pockets by making us think differently about how we phrase our inquiries and, potentially, increasing our patience as we interact with a developing technology. (And yes, I totally get the fear that being able to command non-human voice assistants could degrade manners, but it’s not an inherent aspect of the tech. That’s on us humans.) Maybe all our brains needed to rebound was to interact with technology like we’ve interacted with living creatures for centuries. πŸ—£οΈ

Src: Manual Vonau

Your Phone, Your Clone? πŸ“±

Essential Products is working on a phone that is largely controlled by voice commands and has an AI built in that is supposed to become a digital version of you in order to respond to messages for you. πŸ’¬

I think this sort of functionality and interaction is a big part of the future, but why a phone? πŸ€”

Why try to execute a paradigm shift by working in a known form factor that pits you against Apple and Android. If Amazon and Facebook both failed to launch a phone, why should an interface-altering startup succeed? Why not a watch and/or earbuds? Why not a screen less device that acts as a phone add-on to start? While I applaud the message, I question the medium. ❓

Src: The Verge

Thinking in part informed by Ben Thompson at Stratechery.

Ageless Voice πŸ“£

One of the reasons I’m really excited by voice tech is because I think it’s one of the most accessible forms of computing we’ve had in a long time, maybe ever. πŸ¦•

Now a study has been done that backs up my hunch. The newest edition of the Digital Future Report found that:

  • 60%+ of Americans under 16 use digital assistants πŸ‘§
  • 31% of 65+ use them πŸ§“
  • 27% of 75+ use them πŸ‘΅

That’s a pretty good percentage of older users for a tech that’s still nascent. Imagine what those breakdowns could be when when we advance to a higher level of digital assistant. 🀯

I believe this high use rate, especially in a demographic we usually don’t associate with tech adoption, is because voice tech is built around a basic aspect of being a creature (in many cases): communication. πŸ—£

Src: USC Annenberg

The 5 Stages of Chatbots πŸ“Ά

I’m bullish on AI assistants so I enjoyed this roadmap of their development. We are currently in stage 2 with some companies successfully entering stage 3 in well defined cases. πŸ”œ

  1. Notification Assistants a.k.a. the wave of dumb chatbots that sent you notifications you could have gotten from an app πŸ“―
  2. FAQ Assistants – you are here πŸ“Alexa, Hey Google, Siri, Cortana, etc.
  3. Contextual Assistants – like Alexa but better, allowing for a more contextual approach to Q&A by understanding modifier questions: what’s the weather? > how about tomorrow? ❓
  4. Personalized Assistants – like Alfred but you don’t need the bat ears πŸ•΄
  5. Autonomous Organization of Assistants a.k.a. the day the DMV finally becomes efficient πŸ€–

Src: O’Reilly

Signing With Alexa πŸ€ŸπŸ€™πŸ–²

Simply put, this is awesome. 🀘

Our new technologies, like voice, are opening up computing to people who were previously underserved or unserved by the screen-based paradigm. We still have a long way to go, but it’s the start of exciting times. πŸ™Œ

I wonder how long it will be until Amazon adds functionality like this to the Show device. Or until Google releases a Google Home device with a screen and camera featuring this functionality. It is in TensorFlow after all. πŸ€”

Src: Synced

Sayonara Screens πŸ‘‹

This article lays out a vision of the future I both think is likely and look forward too. Well designed, powerful AI voice assistants could open up a new realm of ambient computing reducing our reliance on screens and making tech more human-centric. We’ve evolved to be social creatures accustomed to interacting via spoken words, not by tapping on a magic box. πŸ¦•πŸ‘€πŸ“±

Also really sad to see screens usurping the world of LEGO via AR. It’s all about the bricks, man! 🏰

Src: New York Times

Duplex is Back πŸ”™

Google retooled their Duplex calling tool a bit so it now announces itself as an automated calling service from Google. Still sounds human. πŸ—£οΈ

Targeted Listening πŸ‘‚

Google recently demoed an AI model that can focus in on one voice in a noisy environment. Might sound easy because we do this pretty naturally, but machines aren’t like us. Mics pick up everything in their range without distinguishing, kind of like how a picture might look different than what you saw with your eyes. πŸ‘€

This is yet another AI advance that is, as Android Police said, cool and terrifying. On the cool side, this could make digital assistants really useful. And who knows what other beneficial uses will be dreamed up. On the terrifying side, Big Brother could be listening as well as watching. πŸ•΄

Src: Android Police

Alexa, Update πŸ–²

Tech Fest season continues! Amazon announced some cool updates to Alexa via blog and conference appearance. 🎊

These updates will make interacting with Alexa feel more like interacting with a human. Not because she (it?) is getting and smarter necessarily, but because the interface is improving. Amazon is continuing to put the customer experience at the forefront, which is why they are taking over. 🌎

As these updates rollout, Alexas in the US will soon be able to automatically search, activate, and use skills based on queries you ask, answering your question without you having to deal with the infrastructure to make it happen. The devices will have an enhanced ability to understand context, moving beyond needing pronouns to follow the conversation (this is the most human-imitative of the updates). Finally, she’ll get a better memory, not sure if there is a specific purpose to this or it’s just so Amazon can understand you better and Alexa can become an augmented brain for users. 🧠