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10
Sep

Enhancements Coming to Google Assistant Set to Rival Siri Improvements in iOS 11


In the run-up to the official release of iOS 11 this month, much of Apple’s focus has been on touted improvements coming to its built-in virtual assistant, Siri. Apart from becoming more naturally spoken, Siri will allow users to get real-time translation between select languages and is said to boast a greater understanding of the user’s needs dependent on circumstance and time of day, with the AI assistant’s learning synced across devices.

Apple is hoping these and other improvements will go some way to quashing negative perceptions of Siri, which have led some iOS users to turn to rival assistants for a better experience. One of those rivals is Google Assistant, which as well as powering Google’s Pixel smartphones is integrated into Google’s iOS Search app. In general tests, Google Assistant consistently beats Siri in areas including language comprehension, responsiveness, and answer accuracy. But like Apple, Google’s AI team is not resting on its laurels, and this week at Google Developer Days, the company demoed some of the new features it is working to bring to its flagship assistant in the near future.

Like Siri, one of the major additions coming to Google Assistant is a new translator mode, which once activated by the user with the phrase “OK Google, be my [specify language] translator”, repeats everything that is subsequently said in the requested language both vocally and visually. While standard translation as such isn’t new to Google Assistant, the new way of interacting with it is designed to be more useful when users are traveling abroad.

Another improvement coming to the virtual AI is better contextual understanding of questions. For example, in the GDD stage demonstration, Google Assistant is first asked to show pictures of Thomas, and the AI returns images of Thomas the Tank Engine. Next, responding to the phrase “Bayern Munich team roster”, the Assistant returns details of the German soccer team. Then it is once more asked for “pictures of Thomas”, but this time the Assistant pulls up pictures of Bayern soccer player Thomas Müller, putting the results correctly in context to the rolling set of queries.

In a subsequent example, the audience is shown how Google Assistant can help them remember the name of a movie that’s on the tip of their tongue. The stage demonstrator asks, “What is the name of the movie where Tom Cruise acts in it and he plays pool and while he plays pool he dances”. With little hesitation, The Color of Money appears on the screen and the Assistant relates further details about the film.


In addition to these new features, Google said its virtual assistant can now respond to questions faster and is able to understand a user’s voice more accurately in noisy environments. It also claimed that the AI now has deeper integration with Google Search, which should enable it to provide more detailed answers to queries.

It’s unclear which of these enhancements will make it over to Google’s iOS Search app, or whether the company makes some of the features exclusive to Android. Whatever its plans, the GDD demonstrations show just how much the virtual assistant wars are hotting up. And with Google Assistant now showing up in third-party smart speaker devices, there’s every indication that Siri in iOS 11 – and in Apple’s upcoming HomePod speaker – will have plenty of competition in the virtual assistant space.

Related Roundup: iOS 11
Tags: Google Assistant, Google Home
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10
Sep

New Tinda Finger gizmo frees up your thumb for more important things


Why it matters to you

If you’re not too fussy about who you hook up with, the Tinda Finger lets you cast a wide net.

Some Tinder users are quite selective, perusing the available selections on their phone for hours before finally deciding to “like” someone. Others — not so much. If you fall into the latter category and experience thumb cramps as a result of swipe after swipe on profile after profile, then you might want to check out this crowdfunding project. The upcoming Tinda Finger, currently in development with pages on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo, may be just what you need to finally find that special someone.

Billed as “The Essential Accessory for Mobile Dating Users,” the Tinda Finger device plugs into the charging port on the bottom of your iPhone or Android smartphone. Once it kicks into action, the Tinda Finger swipes right — on everyone. At 100 revolutions per minute, the Tinda Finger boasts an impressive rate of 6,000 swipes per hour, letting you proclaim your interest in a massive number of potential companions in a very short period of time.

This takes the shotgun approach to dating to a whole new level.

With a modest goal of about $2,640 on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the Tinda Finger has about a month to go to hit its target, and has raised $314 on KS. This isn’t much for a typical campaign, but in the three days since the campaign began, it’s already 12 percent of the way to the goal.

Slated for availability before the end of the year, the Tinda Finger comes in both blue and pink, and it’s compatible with any “right-swipe” app on your phone. That’s right — it only goes right — no left-swiping allowed. Isn’t it nice to see some positivity in the cutthroat world of dating apps?

With an estimated 32 million users on Tinder (and assuming you have no preferences for gender, age, nationality, or any other factors), if you ran your Tinda Finger continuously, it would take more than 5,000 hours, or about 222 days, to blanket the entire site with your likes by swiping right on every member.

So, if you’re a Tinder user, forget about the Gold subscription that lets you see who liked you or the Tinder Boost that bumps you to the front of the line or the Spotify integration that helps you find a match. Instead, grab a Tinda Finger and just send a “like” to every single person on the site. After all, love makes the world go round … and round … and round.




10
Sep

EU countries aim to raise tech firms’ taxes by targeting revenue


It’s no secret that European countries want major tech firms to pay more taxes, but how will they go about that beyond collecting back taxes? By taxing the companies where they’ll feel it the most, that’s how. The finance ministers of France, Germany, Italy and Spain have written a joint letter to the European Union’s presidency and Commission calling for taxes on tech giants’ revenues, not just their profits. The four nations want the Commission to produce an “equalization tax” that would make companies pay the equivalent of the corporate tax in the countries where they earn revenue.

The ministers want to put the issue on the table for an EU meeting in Estonia (where the current presidency is located) on September 15th. It’s not certain how other EU members will react, but the presidency has already scheduled a talk about making it possible to tax companies wherever they produce value. Google recently dodged a tax bullet in France because its operations are based in Ireland, and it’s clear that the countries want to eliminate that technicality going forward.

It’s safe to say that Google, Amazon, Apple and other similarly large companies will fight tooth and nail if the letter turns into definitive action. These frequently base their operations in countries with strong tax incentives, like Ireland, to dramatically reduce the taxes they pay in Europe and beyond. If they had to pay more typical taxes in all EU member states, they might pay billions more every year.

Source: Reuters

10
Sep

MIT is crowdsourcing hurricane flood maps in Florida


People in Broward County, Florida have one more map to rely on this weekend as Hurricane Irma passes through the state. MIT has launched RiskMap, a crowdsourced platform meant to track and map flooding by relying on people’s social media reports, as a pilot project. The county’s residents can update the map by contacting its Twitter DM, Telegram and Facebook Messenger chatbots. They’ll then have to submit their location, a description of its conditions and a photo showing its current flood level. Other residents and officials planning evacuations or sending help can then see those updates on the map as they go live.

Tomas Holderness, the MIT research scientist who led the project, says RiskMap “shows the importance that citizen data has to play in emergencies.” He added that “[b]y connecting residents and emergency managers via social messaging, [their] map helps keep people informed and improve response times.” While it’s unfortunate that the tool is only useful to residents of one county for now, the team aims to make it available to other locations and to add more social media platforms in the future.

MIT first tested the map in Indonesia earlier this year when widespread flooding hit the country. A total of 300,000 users visited the website within 24 hours during the event. To make the map even more helpful, it was also integrated into the Uber app, so drivers could quickly see which roads to avoid.

Via: The Verge

Source: MIT

10
Sep

How do you get kids into coding? Tynker and Parrot let them use it to fly drones


As drone prices continue to drop, the popularity of the flying devices has yet to wane. Couple this love of remote-controlled flying with the desperate need of today’s kids to pursue careers with STEM (science, technology, English and math) skills, and two companies saw a unique opportunity. Educational software maker Tynker has partnered with drone maker Parrot to combine drones with programming education in multiple ways, allowing both schools and parents at home to teach kids to code through drones.

Srinivas Mandyam, Tynker co-founder and CTO, said its software is equipped with a comprehensive school coding solution that makes it easy to integrate computer programming into any classroom with grade-specific programming courses. More than 60,000 schools teach programming using Tynker.

“The school curriculum is built for educators, with no previous programming experience needed,” Mandyam said. “Kids ages seven and up can start learning Tynker’s block-based coding language, then move up to Swift, JavaScript and Python. Tynker helps educators automatically assess student skills, create multiple ‘classrooms,’ easily import students and see useful metrics.”

“The school curriculum is built for educators, with no previous programming experience needed”

Mandyam noticed that many schools were looking at drones as way of teaching robotics in Makerspaces. Factor in kids’ fascination with flying and the low cost of Parrot drones like the Mambo MiniDrone, and this partnership was born. Tynker software works exclusively with Parrot drones, including the Mambo, Swing, Airborne Night, Airborne Cargo, Jumping Race, Jumping Night, Jumping Sumo and Rolling Spider. And thanks to a new $150 consumer bundle that includes the Mambo Minidrone and a six-month subscription to the Tynker platform, it takes this educational element out of the classroom and into the home.

“With this partnership, instead of having kids use pre-made remote controllers, we created a flight simulator course where kids can virtually program a drone from their tablet,” Mandyam explained. “The same code works on real drones, allowing kids to apply their code right in front of their eyes. The pairing of Tynker and Parrot has already been a big hit with students and teachers.”

Jerome Bouvard, director of Parrot education, said the Mambo Minidrone offers a variety of impressive features, tricks and maneuvers that encourage imagination and creativity during play.

“These are a perfect fit for Tynker’s coding platform,” Bouvard explained. “Through Tynker, these tricks and functions become commands that children can use in a new way to create and solve problems.”

Through the many years of working in education, Mandyam learned that kids thrive off of hands-on play, so coding their own drone to do whatever they please is truly fun for them. As an added bonus, it also allows children to get outside and stay active, bringing the positive benefits of traditional play back into educational tech.

“Parents can rest easy knowing their kids are playing with an educational toy that teaches them crucial STEM skills that will help boost their computational and problem solving skills,” Mandyam added. “Because kids of all ages enjoy flying drones, this bundle presents a great opportunity for families to spend time learning together.”

Tynker’s platform was designed around gamified, block-based coding language, which Mandyam said targets kids as young as seven years old through an education tactic they can easily grasp. Tynker can also be easily integrated into popular games like Minecraft, where kids can explore coding through yet another vertical.

“Once kids fully grasp Tynker’s language, they can seamlessly move up to learn Swift, JavaScript and Python within the Tynker platform,” Mandyam explained. “This allows for uninterrupted learning. More importantly, at each step of the way, kids are creating fully functional programs such as games, interactive stories, robot controllers, and Minecraft games that are fun for them.”

“The same code works on real drones, allowing kids to apply their code right in front of their eyes.”

Just a year after the launch of its Parrot education program, Bouvard has seen more than 400 schools in North America integrate Parrot products in their curriculum.

“K-12 educators are using this technology to get students interested in STEM, robotics and engineering,” Bouvard added.

Now what begins in the classroom can continue at home, giving a much different meaning to that dreaded word, “homework.”

“With our interest-based learning approach, we hope to inform kids everywhere that learning about STEM can and should be fun and attainable by all,” Mandyam said. “We absolutely encourage girls to take part in this education, just as much as we encourage boys to. This is the first time Tynker is bundled with a physical toy, which opens up an entire new world of possibilities.”

Mandyam said building a childhood interest in STEM has long-term benefits; given that the IT skills gap between available IT jobs and employees to fill them is projected to reach 1 million by 2020, an interest in STEM could very well translate into a job down the line.

Drones also tap into the current focus to attract more girls at a very young age to pursue STEM learning and develop the skills needed in today’s booming technology sectors.

“The gender gap in regards to women vs. men working in STEM is still quite large,” Mandyam admitted. “With this, kids are still being raised in environments where it’s not as common to see female leaders in tech. It takes extra effort to expose kids (both girls and boys) to the ideology that anyone and everyone can, in fact, be in this industry. Luckily, we are seeing more organizations pop up to encourage kids to become more involved in STEM, in addition to consumer-friendly products such as our bundle. Products like our bundle make programming less abstract and therefore more attractive to kids, making it an especially effective way to teach kids STEM concepts.”

Combining computing, drones and education may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s the first time these things have been bundled in such a way that “homework” takes on a whole new meaning for parents and kids.

Want to get your kids into coding? Digital Trends has a rounded up the top STEM toys for kids, plus 5 of the best learn-to-code apps.




10
Sep

Elon Musk unveils prototype for SpaceX astronaut suit with Crew Dragon capsule


Why it matters to you

SpaceX and Boeing are going head-to-head to be first in space with an eventual mission to Mars on the horizon.

Last month, Elon Musk sent out a teaser image of the slim new black-and-white spacesuit that will be used on the planned SpaceX mission to Mars. Today on Instagram, he shared a full-body picture of someone wearing the suit standing next to a prototype of the Crew Dragon capsule.

The new image of what a SpaceX astronaut might look like shows the design of the boots and gloves, as well as the padding on the pants. These pressure suits are meant to be worn by crew members while riding inside the Crew Dragon. They’re not for spacewalks, but rather they’re designed to keep the astronauts alive during an emergency situation, such as a rapid depressurization.

Astronaut spacesuit next to Crew Dragon

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on Sep 8, 2017 at 1:04pm PDT

The sleek capsule itself, dubbed “Dragon 2,” looks very different than the more conventional “Dragon 1” capsule that’s currently in use delivering cargo to the International Space Station. In August, a Dragon 1 capsule successfully docked with the ISS, delivering a payload that included a Hewlett Packard Enterprises supercomputer planned for use on an eventual Mars mission.

When the capsule splashes down on Earth later this month with 3,000 pounds of cargo from the ISS, it will mark the last time a new Dragon 1 will be used for supply missions. From this point forward, SpaceX plans to fly only refurbished Dragons it has used previously for the NASA missions.

In 2015, SpaceX received a $2.6 billion contract from NASA to carry astronauts to the ISS, and development of the new suits is an important step towards that goal. A demonstration mission is planned for February 2018, with another launch in June with two crew members aboard.

A whole new space race is brewing, however, with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner also vying for the first commercial astronaut delivery to the ISS. Boeing unveiled its own design of snazzy blue spacesuits earlier this year, and they also have plans for the first Starliner test flights this summer.

The next few years will mark a new chapter in the history of space exploration, with private companies filling a role only previously held by government agencies. Whether the crew will be wearing white or blue on an eventual mission to the red planet remains to be seen, but space fans the world over are eagerly anticipating what comes next.




10
Sep

Spotify no longer streams music in Apple’s Safari web browser


If you use Safari to stream Spotify tunes, you’re going to need a plan B. Listeners have discovered that Spotify’s web player no longer works with Safari. Visit and you’ll be asked to either use an alternative browser or fire up the native Mac app. When asked about the abrupt change, the company’s customer support could only say that “recent updates” made Safari incompatible. It can’t say if or when the feature will come back. We’ve asked Spotify if it can elaborate, but there’s already some speculation as to the possible cause.

Mac Generation suspects that the decision might have something to do with the Widevine copy protection plugin. Spotify wants to use that for web-based music streaming, but macOS may flag it over concerns that its security isn’t sufficiently airtight. And without reliable access to Widevine, Spotify can’t guarantee that Safari will play properly even if it’s technically possible.

This isn’t likely to be a huge issue on the Mac, since it doesn’t take much to fire up another app. However, this could be a headache if you use a Mac at work and aren’t allowed to install your own software. Also, it illustrates one of the perils of copy protection on the web: it turns an ostensibly universal platform into a proprietary one where you have to support a given company’s add-ons to get the full experience.

Via: Mac Generation, MacRumors

Source: Spotify Community

10
Sep

Australian tech expert issues dire warning about the dangers of killer sex robots


Why it matters to you

The technology to create a robotic companion is increasing rapidly, but it may come with unintended consequences.

The newest threat to humans may not be nuclear weapons or climate change, but rather robots intended for intimate purposes that could suddenly turn deadly. Even worse, they can even be armed with guns or knives.

Cyber security expert Dr. Nick Patterson recently voiced his concerns about the killer sex robots, cautioning that hackers could take control of the devices and turn them into wanton killing machines. “Hackers can hack into a robot or a robotic device and have full control of the connections, arms, legs and other attached tools like in some cases knives or welding devices,” he declared. “Often these robots can be upwards of 200 pounds, and very strong.”

Elon Musk has previously warned about killer robot armies, describing artificial intelligence research as “summoning a demon.” Dr. Patterson, however, believes that the danger lies in hackers taking control of the sex robots and using them as deadly weapons. “The last thing you want is for a hacker to have control over one of these robots! Once hacked they could absolutely be used to perform physical actions for an advantageous scenario or to cause damage.”

Sex robots are a booming field in artificial intelligence, and the race is on to build the first mass-market robotic erotic companion. Harmony, a $15,000 robot created by Matt McMullen at Abyss Creations, is programmed to be “docile, submissive, and built like a porn star.” Over five years, she has evolved through six iterations and is generating a lot of interest among robot doll aficionados. “My goal, in a very simple way, is to make people happy,” McMullen said. “There are a lot of people out there, for one reason or another, who have difficulty forming traditional relationships with other people. It’s really all about giving those people some level of companionship – or the illusion of companionship.”

Some sex robots have been programmed with actual personalities, and there are others that need to be seduced before you, uh, get down to business. Some robots can be stimulated to orgasm, and there are even plans for robot brothels in Europe. These virtual girlfriends aren’t cheap, however – plan to shell out at least ten grand for even the base models.

On top of that, there’s always the danger they’ll go on a homicidal rampage. Perhaps we should take our cue from the writings of Isaac Asimov and require that all sex robots be programmed with the  Three Laws of Robotics.




10
Sep

Australian tech expert issues dire warning about the dangers of killer sex robots


Why it matters to you

The technology to create a robotic companion is increasing rapidly, but it may come with unintended consequences.

The newest threat to humans may not be nuclear weapons or climate change, but rather robots intended for intimate purposes that could suddenly turn deadly. Even worse, they can even be armed with guns or knives.

Cyber security expert Dr. Nick Patterson recently voiced his concerns about the killer sex robots, cautioning that hackers could take control of the devices and turn them into wanton killing machines. “Hackers can hack into a robot or a robotic device and have full control of the connections, arms, legs and other attached tools like in some cases knives or welding devices,” he declared. “Often these robots can be upwards of 200 pounds, and very strong.”

Elon Musk has previously warned about killer robot armies, describing artificial intelligence research as “summoning a demon.” Dr. Patterson, however, believes that the danger lies in hackers taking control of the sex robots and using them as deadly weapons. “The last thing you want is for a hacker to have control over one of these robots! Once hacked they could absolutely be used to perform physical actions for an advantageous scenario or to cause damage.”

Sex robots are a booming field in artificial intelligence, and the race is on to build the first mass-market robotic erotic companion. Harmony, a $15,000 robot created by Matt McMullen at Abyss Creations, is programmed to be “docile, submissive, and built like a porn star.” Over five years, she has evolved through six iterations and is generating a lot of interest among robot doll aficionados. “My goal, in a very simple way, is to make people happy,” McMullen said. “There are a lot of people out there, for one reason or another, who have difficulty forming traditional relationships with other people. It’s really all about giving those people some level of companionship – or the illusion of companionship.”

Some sex robots have been programmed with actual personalities, and there are others that need to be seduced before you, uh, get down to business. Some robots can be stimulated to orgasm, and there are even plans for robot brothels in Europe. These virtual girlfriends aren’t cheap, however – plan to shell out at least ten grand for even the base models.

On top of that, there’s always the danger they’ll go on a homicidal rampage. Perhaps we should take our cue from the writings of Isaac Asimov and require that all sex robots be programmed with the  Three Laws of Robotics.




10
Sep

A phone app helped saved lives during Hurricane Harvey


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Read how the Zello app helped civilian first responders find and rescue people trapped in Harvey’s flood waters.

Your phone can seem like a lifesaver at times. But this story from the Houston Chronicle shows how a miniature computer that can install and run apps literally saved lives. You need to read Holly Hartman’s story to understand how anyone with a phone app, no matter where they are, can help when a dire situation happens. It’s a powerful tale that just might bring you to tears: both at the dire situation of some of Harvey’s victims and how one person was able to step up and make a difference.

Read: I downloaded an app. And suddenly, was part of the Cajun Navy.

It also shows how the things we use every day are now indispensable. The same phone you use to play a game or watch YouTube videos with is also a tool that an amazing group of regular people used to save lives. Let that sink in for a moment: people didn’t die because of a smartphone app.

Zello_PTT-app_0.jpg?itok=IkpKCRL1

The app in question is Zello PTT Walkie Talkie. It’s well done but not anything particularly special. What matters is that the right people all installed it and did everything they could to let folks in the Houston area know that they could install it and be able to call for help. In the hours before Harvey made landfall, Twitter and Facebook posts telling everyone to install Zillo were abundant. We’re seeing the same thing today with Hurricane Irma ready to wreck SouthWest Florida, and hopefully, it can make the same difference.

Hurricanes don’t discriminate: everyone left behind is at risk.

If you’ve never been through a major hurricane it’s hard to understand what conditions are like. You’re essentially isolated and on your own until the storm lets up enough for emergency responders to do their jobs. And there will always be people who stayed back and didn’t evacuate. Some because they can’t and others who just don’t want to. I was in the latter group when Hurricane Andrew happened and spent a few hours trapped in a Circle K (a small convenience store) with four others, hoping the water wouldn’t get high enough to drown us all. Even when the water finally stopped rising, we all were stuck until we were able to flag down a rescue boat.

This was before the smartphone age.We had no way of letting anyone know where we were or our situation. Calling 911 during a hurricane is futile because there will never be enough operators and dispatchers to take the calls coming in, and your call for help will likely be unanswered. If you are unfortunate enough, or as in my case, stubborn enough, to not leave when advised you’re on your own. It’s wonderful that we now have the tools to be less isolated and can hear a friendly voice just when we need one.

If you’re in the path of Irma and didn’t evacuate to a safe shelter, make sure you have Zillo installed. If you’re able and willing to help, either in the field or to take calls, please do the same. There are lives on the line.

Download: Zello PTT Walkie Talkie (free) from Google Play

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