Amazon Fire Can Talk to Your Home and Listen to You

It would seem Amazon keep expanding on their technology, from the Kindle to the Echo, they produce more and more technologies that we now feel we need, that we never even considered before. The next one has a simple and nice name, Alexa, and she’s looking forward to helping you get your house straight.

Alexa is available on Amazon Fire devices running version 5 (and Fire TV Sticks running Fire OS 5.0.3) and higher. Alexa is a system designed to allow you to voice control your connected home systems.

From playing your prime music stations to playing your music collection, even your audible books. You can even re-order items, so remember that pet food and supplements you order? Why not re-order more in a single sentence?

You can even use Alexa to create your shopping lists, check your calendar or toggle your home devices.

Imagine sitting down to watch a movie and realising the lights are a little too bright, one sentence later the lights have dimmed to that of a cinema and with another sentence, your movie begins and you enjoy your popcorn in comfort having never left your seat.

At £79.99 for the TV box or £34.99 for the Fire TV Stick, you could soon be streaming all your favourite videos and streaming services without ever having to leave your chair. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Remembering Robin Williams 1yr On

Yesterday (August 11th) marked the one year anniversary since the passing of Robin Williams, who was a beloved, charismatic and exciting comedian, actor and personality. Uniqueness is overused within today’s generic saturation of celebrity; Robin Williams was without a doubt unique and creative. His career spanned the silverscreen which included animation to thrillers and everything in between; the diverse acting ability can even be linked within tech, think voiceovers in animated films such as Robots, Aladdin, Flubber and CGI adventures in Night Of The Museum franchise.

A critical aspect of Robin Williams personality was his movement; he could display a wired comic before stepping it down several notches for a moving scene. Below is a video which displays this and comes courtesy of a Vimeo channel video, it begins with a clip from Good Morning Vietnam; I loved this performance because it felt spontaneous, dangerous and exciting.

A comparison of movement is illustrated 1:34 minutes into this video with a clip of One Hour Photo which is below. As you can see, there are two different scenes which are side by side, these could easily contain the same movements, but Robin Williams subtly changes to convey the effect of variation. A person in real life for example walks to work, but they do not walk with the same movements each day, this also conveys the impression of two different days, not the same structured scene which has been repeated.

A clip from Flubber now which is below and illustrates the way Robin Williams acted, I can’t think of many comedians who would be able to successfully convey a story while acting with a CGI non entity, the performance is natural and embodies the character while still managing to project authenticity, it’s also not forced over the top acting for the sake of it, he understands the skills required.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJT2QOpnYb8

I was going to place comedy from Robin Williams below, but, I cannot guarantee the clips won’t contain swearing, therefore I have not, also, there are clips on Youtube from a US show by the name of Shrink Rap, by all means take a look, it’s fascinating. The clip is 46 minutes long and again, I have not uploaded it because of the reason above.

1 year on and the world still misses a genius.

A Robot Passed the Self-Awareness Test and This Is How It Did It

When talking about robots and self-awareness, I think most people would just freak out, but there are some people who would be extremely excited and interested about these things. But I don’t think freaking out would be the case here, even though a robot just passed the first self-awareness test ever.

The guys over at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York are said to have built three robots which were put to the so-called “wise men puzzle” test. The original test involved a fictional king, who in order to choose his next advisor, invites three of the land’s wisest men to a contest. He then puts either a blue or white hat on their head and tells them that the first to stand up and tell the colour of their own hat will become his new advisor.

The same logic has been implemented with the three robots here too. Two of them were stripped of their ability to talk, then all three were asked to tell which one was still able to speak. All of them then proceeded to say ‘I don’t know’, but surprisingly, the one who heard its voice became aware of its ability to still speak and added ‘Sorry, I know now!’.

The above may seem trivial to us as humans, but bear in mind that robots are programmed to do what we ‘tell’ them to do, so up until now, all robots we’ve seen doing this were doing them because we systematically told them what to do. To see a robot recognising its own voice and distinguishing it from other human voices is a big step forward for AI.

To be noted here is that all three robots were coded in the same way, so we can see a bit of the machine learning technique in place here. While the other two did not see any signs of self-awareness and ‘thinking’, the third one was able to tell and learn the difference. This means that the third robot was able to learn some differences in behaviour, using the base code to ‘deduce’ what the others could not.

It’s really interesting and I admit, it may be a bit scary too. But in the end, complex AI are bound to be invented sooner or later, so we may see the first big step here. Also, if you’re interested in seeing the robot for yourself, you should know that it will be displayed at the RO-MAN conference in Japan between the 31st of August and the 4th of September.

Thank you TechRadar for providing us with this information

Computers Can Now Talk To Each Other!


Sharing information between computers has long been an issue. Be it with a floppy disk or USB Memory Stick, or even other a wireless network, sharing information has long been limited by the hardware of the devices and occasionally a third device. Some companies wish to change this, and want to have your computer and phones talk to each other, in an almost literal sense.

Google’s latest extension, titled Google Tone, allows the transmission of URL’s via sound. By emitting a sound from one device, be it your computer or phone, and another device picking it up via Microphone the App plans to allow users to share URL’s with users as easily as just talking. The Extension for Chrome states that this will also work over phone calls or even google handouts, so next time you’re on skype or on the phone to someone you could send them a link to your favourite technology blog by simply pressing a single button. You can even send that funny cat video to all your friends at your restaurant table, be warned though, people on nearby tables with Tone would be able to pick up the link too.

Amid fears that the device would listen in on everything from the devices microphone, Google Tone can easily be disabled and even lowers the volume of devices it’s enabled on to allow transmissions to be picked up and sent clearer.

When broadcasting tone sends out a series of beeps that sound almost as if R2D2 was talking to you, so next time I’m watching Star Wars I’m going to see what websites R2D2 recommends.

Thank you Google for providing us with this information.

Voice Messaging Feature Arrives This April for the Xbox One

Microsoft is planning to get a voice messaging feature up and running on its Xbox One, which is due to arrive with the new firmware this April. Xbox One dashboard preview testers are said to be able to test the new feature this week, having them be the first to leave audio clips in their friends’ inboxes.

An interesting aspect of this feature is that it will allow Xbox One as well as Xbox 360 owners to exchange voice messages. Aside from the latter, Microsoft is said to be adding a new ‘What’s On’ section for the dashboard that would feature games and series tailored to a user’s preferences, as well as providing dedicated servers for users struggling with party chat connections.

Thank you Polygon for providing us with this information

Scientists Want to Help Power Your Phone by Talking to It

A group of scientists from the university of Sungkyunkwan in South Korea have apparently developed a new technology which converts sound waves into electrical energy. With this concept, smartphones will be able to charge from any sound source, from talking to music and even highway traffic noise.

“The sound that always exists in our everyday life and environments has been overlooked as a source. This motivated us to realise power generation by turning sound energy from speech, music or noise into electrical power.” Dr. Sang-Woo Kim, a researcher involved in the project, stated.

The current outcome involves a prototype that converts around 100 decibels to 50 millivolts of electricity. This is done with a pad which absorbs sound waves and causes zinc oxide wires mounted between electrodes to compress and release, creating an electrical current that can be used to charge a battery.

While the generated electricity so far isn’t enough to power a whole phone, Dr. Kim stated that different materials can be used in the future to get better results. The current prototype however can already be beneficial for small, low-power sensors and implantable devices.

Thank you Huffington Post for providing us with this information

You Can Now Control Your Thermostat With Your Voice

The Nest thermostat has received an update which allows it to be controlled via your voice. You can simply ask for a particular temperature and your thermostat will get to work on it.

On an Android device or in the Google app on iOS, you can ask “OK Google, change temperature to,” “set Nest to,” “turn the thermostat to,” to take complete control over the temperature of your home. Nest was founded by the “father of the iPod” Tony Fadell. Tony was Steve Jobs’ right hand man for many years, obviously having a great level of involvement in the conception of the iPod and also with the iPhone. Fadell left the company not long after the iPhone’s debut and set up Nest.

Nest has grown rapidly to become one of the biggest names in the emerging home automation market and was recently purchased by Google, meaning it’s no surprise that Google is interested in using its voice technology to help Nest grow.

Source: The Verge

Cortana Personal Assistant Integrated in Skype for Windows Phone

Microsoft has announced some new features coming to Skype for both Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 8.1, namely the Skype 2.19 update, which includes video improvements, fast app resume, increased language support and improved notifications.

The most interesting feature in the update however is the Cortana personal assistant. The personal assistant was first rumoured earlier this year, followed by the official presentation of the feature at Microsoft’s BUILD conference alongside Windows Phone 8.1.

Cortana is said to bear deep roots inside the Windows Phone platform, therefore its integration into Skype makes sense, since the application is currently owned by the same company. However, people might be skeptical about its usefulness in Skype, but there are ways users can enhance their interactions with the application.

For example, users would be able to start video and audio calls by interacting with Cortana by simply stating “Cortana, voice call on Skype.” or “Video call on Skype.”. Though it might sound appealing to some, there are some limitations to this, having Cortana currently available only in the US and on Windows Phone 8.1.

Nevertheless, Microsoft did state that the personal assistant along with the Windows Phone 8.1 update will eventually roll out to the rest of the world. In the meantime, the company apparently has made the application available for download in the Windows Phone store.

Thank you Ubergizmo for providing us with this information

EE to Offer Voice Calls, Text Messaging via Wi-Fi

UK wireless carrier EE is launching a program for subscribers to make voice calls and send text messages over Wi-Fi, promising sound quality better than what’s provided by Skype.

The company has invested upwards of £275 million to try to eliminate white spots throughout the UK. Many customers living and working in parts of the UK with poor phone coverage complained about the inability to receive calls and text messages.

The Wi-Fi calling is scheduled to launch this call, EE confirmed in a press statement. In addition, here is what Fotis Karonis, EE Chief Technology Officer, said:

“Our Wi-Fi calling capability will let customers make calls where they have access to Wi-Fi but not to the mobile network. The customer experience is seamless because it’s the same as making a network call and uses the normal call interface of the handset. This is a major part of our strategy to invest in giving customers the ability to make a call wherever they are, and we’re confident that this service can make a big difference to people in homes and large offices across the country, especially in the most rural areas, that don’t have mobile coverage.”

It’s a clever offering from EE, understanding that clients living in areas with poor 2G, 3G or 4G network coverage still should have the ability to make and receive dependable phone calls.

Thank you to EE for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of Bristol Bulletin

Windows Phone’s ‘Cortana’ Personal Assistant Leaked In Short Video

Previous reports highlight that Microsoft is working on a personal assistant, similar to Apple’s Siri or Google Now, for the Windows Phone platform. Previous reports say that it is codenamed “Cortana” after the advanced AI seen in Microsoft’s Halo game series.

The latest rumors and leaks about it comes in the form of a video which is said to show off a fragment of Microsoft’s Windows Phone voice assistant feature. Unfortunately, the video quality is very poor. The person filming it shot only part of the screen as you can see, and to make matters worse, he did not even paused the track playing in the background, so you can barely hear the personal assistant’s voice. It seems to be giving some sort of navigation instructions.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WenVxycrvk[/youtube]

There are sounds and image features that leads us to think that it is a Windows Phone platform, such as the dings that alert the beginning and end of a voice action, and the typography patch the Segoe UI font found on all of Microsoft’s Metro UI. There is not a lot to go on here, but if this is real, it shows what we should expect from the ‘Cortana’ project Windows is working on.

We still are looking forward for it to be shown off in April along with Windows Phone 8.1. We hope to see it perform at least simple search queries, navigation, appointments, etc.

Thank you Phonearena for providing us with this information
Video courtesy of Phonearena

Future Generations Get To Know How Important People Sounded Like Through Wikipedia

Wikipedia is starting to add celebrity and other public figure voices to one of its projects, called WikiVIP, which stands for “Wikipedia Voice Intro Project”. What is it you ask? Well, Wikipedia thought it could do with some voices through all its article lines, namely important and known people will be voice sampled and the recordings saved on the Wikipedia database for preservation purposes.

The project was started by Wikipedia editors Andy Mabbett and Andrew Gray, who approach celebrities and explained this idea. The first celebrity to join the project was Stephen Fry, who now has a sample of his speaking voice on Wikipedia. The aim is to attract and spread the word so as other public figures, scientists, artists, etc. hear about the project and get their voice sample taken by the Wikipedia team.

Even BBC has reportedly started supporting Wikipedia, having short clips from some of its programming sent for preservation as well. The voices range from Sir Tim Berners-Lee to Augn San Suu Kyi. All recordings have been announced to have an open-license in order to allow others to use them freely. They can be uploaded to Wikipedia Commons in an open format, such as Ogg Vobis, sort of like mp3 but without patents restricting them.

The aim of the project and the preservation of voices is to help “current and future generations” to hear how celebrities and public figures sounded like, basically adding a voice to a face. Those who have Wikipedia pages about them are apparently encouraged to contact the WikiVIP team with a voice recording sample to help contribute to the growing database.

Thank you TheNextWeb for providing us with this information

Apple And Google To Battle Over Personal Assistants

Smartphone manufacturers have been battling over features, specs and design. But now it seems that the battleground is moving towards the personal assistant area, where Siri and Google Now comes into play. According to a report out of the U.K., both Apple and Google are hard at work improving their virtual personal assistants. Both companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to improve how each of their “assistants” comprehends the human language.

Google Now works differently than its rival Siri, anticipating what information is needed by reading a users emails and looking at their calendar. Google feels it has an advantage in understanding real world language because of the way search results are ranked on the Google search engine. Google Now, which also plays a big part in Google Glass, will also be found on smartwatches, cars, and in the home.

Apple might have felt some pressure from the way that Google Now anticipates information requests. This could explain Apple’s decision to purchase Topsy for $200 million. Topsy looks for patterns among the 500 million tweets that are sent out daily. Nick Halstead, the CEO of Topsy’s U.K. rival DataSift, believes that Apple will use the information delivered by Topsy to improve how Siri responds to requests for information.

Thank you Phonearena for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of Giga.de

Browser Google On Your Desktop With A Simple “Okay, Google!” Command

Google has released an extension which brings the automatic voice search mobile feature to the desktop. It is triggered whenever you say the key phrase “Okay, Google.” The company also referenced it being available on Google+ for US English users.

Other previous speech software used were available for web the web, but the user has to click a button in order to have the browser listen to the input command. With the new extension, so long as you have the extension installed, you should be able to trigger the command anywhere just by saying “Okay, Google” in any opened tab.

However every software has its limitations, and in this case a Google search page has to be the active tab in order for the extension to work. Users are able to tell if the function is active or not just by looking at the microphone icon, which should be filled in order to display its available for use. The feature is said to be available in any search results screen as well, providing you don’t navigate away from it.

Reviews mark the recognition software as pretty accurate and it can even provide spoken results for measurements and currency conversions. You can download the software from the Chrome Web Store, found under the name Google Search.

Thank you Techcrunch for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of Techcrunch

Google To Announce Android 4.4 KitKat

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sONcojECWXs[/youtube]

Google released two long-awaited and hotly anticipated products. Already detailed earlier, the Nexus 5 runs on Mountain View company’s latest mobile OS. Android 4.4 KitKat has been in the news for quite some time now. It’s high time we learnt more about it, and officially now.

One of the key features of the new release is optimizations made to the OS, so as to be able to run smoothly on legacy devices with just 512 MB of RAM. Don’t get too excited, your old 2011 Smartphone won’t get the update. The significance of this update is that entry-level devices in the future should have no problem running Android 4.4 smoothly, despite their aging hardware.

Google has brought in a new sensor batching technology that cuts down on power consumption. Wireless printing has found its way into the features list, with support for HP hardware. Android 4.4 KitKat comes with the updated Hangouts app, capable of sending and receiving text messages and placing HD video calls. Google has updated the ‘People’ app, adding more functionality to it. It’s search functionality has been revamped, allowing you to look across multiple accounts with relative ease.

Google Now has also received a massive update, taking advantage of some of the hardware features offered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 SoC. The voice recognition engine has been tuned to be 25% more accurate than before. Also, all those envious of Moto X owners need not be anymore, for the Nexus 5 can also be woken up using just your voice commands.

Thank you NextPowerUp for providing us with this information
Video courtesy of NextPowerUp

SMS and MMS To Be Merged Into Hangouts By Google

The Hangouts application, which has so far only successfully unified Google+ Messenger and Google Talk, leaving Messaging and Voice to co-exist, is finally getting SMS and MMS integration. According to sources familiar with the matter, the upcoming Hangouts version 1.3 has these features enabled and, furthermore, also allows sharing of videos via the Hangouts protocol.

Messages sent via SMS will be shown as “via SMS” next to the timestamp so that users can always figure out the protocol used for each message delivery. Users can also request delivery reports for sent SMS, a feature that is part of the SMS protocol that some use on a daily basis.

MMS picture messaging is supported as well, though it cannot be confirmed sending of video via MMS at this time. There is a settings menu for wireless alerts as well as a toggle for auto-retrieving messages while roaming. Finally, users can opt out of SMS via Hangouts altogether.

The Voice protocol has still to be implemented into Hangouts, but nobody knows if there will be another update in the future which allows Hangouts to be able to “engulf” the Voice protocol as well.

There is no official confirmation at this point about a possible release timeline and correlation between KitKat and this Hangouts update. It’s possible that Google will roll it out before KitKat but it’s equally as possible for it to come out later if it’s not fully baked just yet.

Thank you Android Police for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of Android Police.