Alexa Internet

VoiceLabs suspends its Amazon Alexa skill ad network

VoiceLabs has suspended its Sponsored Messages program, one of the first ad networks available for developers who make Alexa skills. VoiceLabs had experimented with Alexa skill ads since January, and launched Sponsored Messages publicly a little over a month ago with advertisers like ESPN and Wendy’s, but the voice analytics company chose to suspend its ad network after Amazon updated its Alexa advertising policy to forbid any use of Alexa’s voice or imitation of an Alexa interaction.

“The May 21 policy change by Amazon really drove home that the market is not ready. VoiceLabs and our partners were most excited to introduce interactive advertising that converses with consumers to create innovative experiences,” VoiceLabs CEO Adam Marchick said in a blog post Tuesday. “This ability to react to user preferences opens the door to a whole new field of audio advertising, and the May 21 policy prevents this.”

While pre-roll ads from VoiceLabs may no longer be available, there’s plenty for sale within the Alexa ecosystem….

AI Weekly: Voice is the killer interface

This an image of the AI Weekly Newsletter logo

This week’s news reminds me how much fun it is to be surprised by technology. Bonjour, Snips! Yesterday, the Paris-based AI startup raised $13 million, on top of an earlier $8 million investment, for technology that let developers put a voice assistant on nearly any device.

Add this to recent advances from Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri, and it’s obvious that voice is becoming the new interface much sooner than many people, including yours truly, ever anticipated.

These are exponential leaps forward in the steady progress from command-based interfaces to conversational ones. Instead of screens and devices, we’re now talking to smart speakers and smartphones. It’s as if the machines themselves are disappearing — the “thing” we’re conversing with is some crazy fantastic blend of artificial intelligence, super computer, bandwidth, and what have you, that we never see.

What’s more, the idea of a price war between the major smart speakers makers now looks more likely, especially if new, low-priced competitors enter the market. One day, the notion of having just one device, say an Amazon Echo, in your home, in, say the kitchen, will be as outdated as a rotary telephone.

For AI coverage, send news tips to Blair Hanley Frank and Khari Johnson, and guest post submissions to John Brandon — and be sure to bookmark our AI Channel.

Thanks for reading,
Blaise Zerega
Editor in Chief

P.S. Please enjoy this video of Julian Assange discussing “AI-controlled social media” at the Meltdown Festival, June 11, 2017.

Facebook hires Siri natural language understanding chief from Apple

Apple’s Siri team lost its head of natural language understanding this month. Rushin Shah left his post as a senior machine learning manager on Apple’s virtual assistant to join Facebook’s Applied Machine Learning team, where he’ll be working on natural language and dialog understanding, according to a LinkedIn post. Shah will be based out of […]

Snips raises $13 million for voice platform that gives gadgets an alternative to Google and Amazon

Snips announced today that it has raised $13 million to boost its launch…

Amazon debuts $20 Dash Wand with Alexa inside, and tonight’s it’s basically free

This is an Amazon Dash Wand

Amazon debuted the Dash Wand today, a $20 device with a magnet on the back that can stick to your refrigerator. For all purchases made today, the Amazon Dash Wand comes with a $20 gift certificate, making it effectively free for Prime members who spend more than $35.

The Dash Wand is the latest Alexa-enabled device to come to market, following the Echo Show and Echo Look last month, devices that respectively…

Bad news, Siri: Survey finds price is most important to smart speaker shoppers

This is a picture of an Apple HomePod

Price is the most important factor for consumers shopping for smart speakers like Google Home, Amazon Echo, or the yet-to-be-released Apple HomePod, according to a Morning Consult survey released today.

In the poll, roughly 30 percent of the people said price was the most important factor when considering the purchase of a smart speaker, while 14 percent said accuracy of the device’s voice recognition was most important.

The poll of 2,200 respondents was conducted between June 8 and 12, just days after the release of Apple’s HomePod.

Intelligent assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and Google Assistant can help you do a range of tasks with your voice, from sifting through emails to turning on your sprinklers or helping you cook.

There was no such thing as a smart speaker until the Amazon Echo made its debut in November 2014. This year, based on its own survey, voice analytics company VoiceLabs predicts that nearly 25 million will be sold, quadrupling sales that occurred in 2014 and 2015.

The fact that people are willing to make price the number one factor for smart speaker purchases could spell bad news for…

How to Access Your iCloud Calendar with Alexa

Thanks to a recent Alexa update, you can now access your iCloud calendar through your Amazon Echo, other Alexa-enabled devices, and the Alexa app. To do so, however, you’ll need to do a little tweaking behind the scenes.

We’ve shown you how to link your Google Calendar to Alexa, but now we’re back to help iCloud users get the same functionality. In order to use your iCloud calendar with Alexa, you need three things: two-factor authentication enabled on your Apple account, an iCloud app-specific password just for Alexa, and, naturally, your Alexa device to accept the voice input.

Step One: Create an App-Specific Password for Your Apple ID

We won’t run through setting up two-factor authentication on your Apple account, but we do have a detailed guide on doing so here for those of you who haven’t enabled it already. Instead, let’s jump right into creating that app-specific password.

Log into your Apple account at appleid.apple.com. Confirm your login by entering the two-factor identification code sent to your primary device. Once logged in, look for the section in your Apple ID control panel labeled “Security” and click on “Generate Password” as seen below.

When prompted, label the app-specific password “Alexa” and click “Create”.

Apple will provide you with a randomly generated alphanumeric string in the format xxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx. Highlight and copy the password as we’ll be entering it in the next step of the tutorial.

Step Two: Link Your iCloud Calendar to Alexa

App-specific password in hand, it’s time to add your iCloud Calendar to Alexa. To…

How to Delete Conversations in the Alexa App

If you want to keep your conversations list in the Alexa app from getting out of control, here’s how to delete certain conversations that you’re no longer participating in.

With the new calling and messaging features brought to Alexa, there’s now a new Conversations screen in the Alexa app that’s very similar to your phone’s own text messaging app. And just like with your stock messaging app, you can delete certain conversations in order to clean it…

With free Alexa calling, the Amazon Echo is now a home phone replacement

The Amazon Echo can do way more than a home phone.
The Amazon Echo can do way more than a home phone.

Every single time I go back to my parents’ home I try to get them to cancel their home phone line. And every time I fail.

I don’t know how much they pay for their phone bill off the top of my head, but whatever it is, it’s too much — especially since they rarely use it, and they have smartphones which I generously pay for.

According to a recently published U.S. Health Department finding, 50.8 percent of American homes don’t have a landline and have a cellphone instead.

Naturally, as cellphones have become ubiquitous, the number of landlines in homes have declined and will continue to fall. There’s simply no need to have a home phone and cellphone — it’s an unnecessary duplication.

Most of the concerns for keeping a landline around (I’ve heard them all, thank you very much dad) usually involve “It’s got better call quality and calls almost never drop” and “I still need it for international calls.” These are just excuses for people who don’t want to break old habits and dump the ol’ telephone.

But hey, who am I to try to save you money. It’s your money and you can spend it paying your telephone company if you want to.

Seriously though, if you want to stop paying for a home phone line, but still want a reliable fixed calling device at home, the Echo/Echo Dot’s new Alexa calling and messaging features makes for a good alternative. It’s basically VoIP.

I just tested the new Alexa calling feature using an Echo Dot and an iPhone with the newly updated Alexa app and it works as advertised. After granting the Alexa app access to my contacts, it showed which of them have the Alexa app installed on their phones or have Echo devices set up. These are the only people you’ll be able to call and send voice messages to through Alexa.

Right off the bat, I noticed the call quality was good. Like really good. My colleague Brett said it sounded just as clear as a regular phone call, which is great because if I’m ever to convince my parents to get rid…

How to Find Out if a Smarthome Device Works with Alexa, Siri, or Google Home and Assistant

Now that voice assistants are becoming extremely popular, many users who want to outfit their living spaces with smarthome products are probably wanting these products to be compatible with their voice assistant, whether it’s Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant (and Google Home). Here’s how to find out whether or not a smarthome device works with these platforms.

Look for the Badge on the Product Box

Perhaps the easiest and quickest way to see if a smarthome device is compatible with the voice assistant of your choice is to take a look at the product’s packaging and look for the badge that says what it supports.

Somewhere on the box you’ll find a small badge that says something like “Works with Apple HomeKit” or “Works with Amazon Alexa”. You may also just see the Amazon Echo logo, which also tells you that it works with Alexa.

However, keep in mind that some product boxes won’t have these badges printed on them even though they fully support Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant. Philips Hue boxes, for instance, only have the HomeKit badge, even though they’re natively supported by Alexa and Google Assistant as well. Because of that, you may want to look for a second source.

Visit the Product’s Website

If the product box doesn’t mention anything about which voice…

The Amazon Echo Look Gives You Fashion Advice

Amazon has launched another piece of hardware, but this one does something different than the Echo, Tap, and Dot smart speakers. The Amazon Echo Look is an Alexa-powered camera designed to dole out fashion advice to those who need it. Useful? Probably. Narcissistic? Definitely.

It may have started life as an online bookseller, but these days Amazon is so much more than that. Not only does it sell anything you can think of, the company has its own range of hardware. Not content with ebook readers and smart speakers, Amazon has now launched a smart camera too.

Alexa Targets Narcissists

The Amazon Echo Look is another Alexa-enabled smart home device. It can do all of the same things the other Echo devices can do, but the Look is focused on photos and videos rather than audio. There is a small speaker built in, but it’s more for listening to the news and weather.

The Look lets you take photos and short videos…

How Capital One transformed into a tech and AI company

Capital One Eno

From ATMs and mobile wallets to chatbots and robo-advisors, technology relentlessly transforms how we store, transfer, and manage money. Capital One moves at the forefront of this transformation — one of the largest and among the first banking institutions in the U.S. to make serious investments in digital technology and artificial intelligence.

Several major financial services firms have publicly announced ambitious plans for AI, including consumer-facing chatbots. Months later, they still haven’t shipped. Companies that aren’t core technology organizations like Google or Facebook often struggle with getting tech products out the door. Capital One is one of the few exceptions to the rule.

Capital One’s transition to digital kicked off when the company formed an in-house software engineering unit and migrated a significant part of operations to the cloud, foreseeing early on that agility would become a key competitive edge for players in the financial sector. More recently, the Fortune 500 firm infused both backend infrastructure and customer-facing channels with smart doses of machine learning and natural language processing, punctuated in March by an industry-first rollout of a gender-neutral and NLP-capable chatbot named Eno (“One” spelled backwards).

In 2016, the Virginia-based lender became the first financial services company to launch customer account access on Amazon’s Alexa platform, allowing users to check their balances, pay their bills, and engage in a wide range of voice-based interactions. The company also announced it plans to be the first financial services company to launch a similar service on Cortana, Microsoft’s personal assistant software.

Capital One’s latest AI-driven initiative is the chatbot Eno, which markedly shifts the medium from voice to text. Ken Dodelin, VP of digital product management, explained, “Texting is the most widely used feature on the smartphone. Ninety-seven percent of smartphone owners text. So we thought that would be a good place for us to spend some time. And we launched the first natural language SMS chatbot from a U.S. bank.

“Through Eno, folks can chat with us in natural language about their credit card accounts and their checking accounts, and we’re able to have…