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How voicebots will free us from our screens

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With the release of Apple’s HomePod, unveiled at WWDC 2017, the race has officially started — we are all waiting to see who will win as the leader in the voice-activated intelligent speaker market.

And while the early adopters get to work integrating these devices into their lives and the late adopters drag their heels because of security fears, we might all still agree that this trend toward voice-activated technology is not showing any signs of slowing down. It’s been around for decades, but recent years have seen it trickle down into our cars, phones, fridges, and even lamps. Perhaps home domination by these intelligent speakers and their virtual assistants is a sign that we’re on the tipping point of another technological revolution.

After all, underpinning the voice-activated tech race is a subtle but powerful message that both warns and heralds that screen time is vanishing.

Why screens cannot compete with the human voice

According to the American Linguistic Society, when we use speech as a way to convey and gather information, we are tapping into a deeper, more primal part of our humanity. While we’ve only been writing for roughly 6,000 years, we’ve been speaking for much longer than that. Children are talking by the time they’re two years old, but writing (especially legibly) takes much more time. Truly, human-to-human interaction through speech is the original user interface.

It makes sense, then, that when we want to quickly check the weather, the sports score, or our flight departure time, we should ask out loud, rather than load a webpage, type in a search, sift through the results, and read the information.

Granted, there are some search terms for which we would not want the results announced out loud (for example, “find nearby jewelry stores that sell engagement rings”) and others where the results will be visual (“show me…

Try Out New Safari Features Early With Safari Technology Preview

Some of the coolest new features in the upcoming macOS 10.13 High Sierra are in Safari, and you can try them out now without upgrading your entire operating system.

During WWDC 2017, Apple bragged about faster Safari performance, showed off a new block feature for any and all autoplaying videos, and talked about blocking ads from tracking your movements. You can try these features out with Safari Technology Preview. This free download is primarily intended for web developers, who can use the tool to confirm their sites will work on upcoming versions of Safari for macOS and iOS. But it’s also a quick way to try out new features, including those upcoming in macOS High Sierra.

To get started, head to the Safari Technology Preview page on Apple’s website, then download the version for your current operating system.

Mount the DMG file and you’ll find a PKG file.

Double-click the PKG to run the installation process, following the prompts…

Keep Your Classic Cans Alive With a Bluetooth Clip-On

My pair of Grado SR80e headphones are one of my prized possessions. I love lying on my couch and listening to the album du jour (I’m ready for 4:44). But thanks to Apple’s courageous decision to remove the headphone jack, I can’t plug my SR80s into an iPhone 7 without a Lightning adapter, and I’ve yet to upgrade from my iPhone 6 because of it.

But this year a new iPhone is expected to show up, and while I do think it’s time for me to make the switch, I want to keep using my favorite headphones in this brave new world. So I bought some Bluetooth headphone adapters, and I think you should, too. Not only does it let me use my headphones with a newer phone, it lets me connect to a variety of devices without messing with cables.

Use your old headphones on your new smartphone

A Bluetooth headphone adapter is just a portable Bluetooth receiver, and outputs through a 3.5mm headphone jack. Like a traditional Bluetooth receiver—the Moto Stream for example—you can technically plug one in to any speaker with a 3.5mm line in jack, though you’ll have to charge it…

Why Apple’s HomePod has a chance

This is a picture of the Apple HomePod

I’m counting down the days on this one.

My primary phone is an iPhone 7 Plus, although I use Android phones all week as well as part of my job. In my house, I use the Apple TV and quite a few HomeKit devices, so I’m already using Siri to turn my lights on and off and even activate a sprinkler system. (In case you’re wondering, yes — my neighbors have looked at me funny when I command the garden to water itself.)

Product success can depend greatly on an established audience. When the Apple HomePod ships this December, I’ll buy one or two or six. I’ll probably even try to score one of the first ones at my local Apple store as I did with an iPad long, long ago. I haven’t tested the speaker quality against the Google Home, which is outstanding as a music device. We don’t know exactly how Apple is going to make Siri work more like a true AI bot by the fall. We do have a few hints — translation and more proactive suggestions should be available in iOS 11.

Yet, I already know how this will fit into my own digital lifestyle. For starters, I am firmly implanted into the iTunes ecosystem. One reason is that I’m lazy. I can’t imagine having to categorize my entire collection of indie music all over again, and the brains inside iTunes…

As Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make an impact, overall progress stalls

Image Credit: Audi

Don’t ever push the voice button on any new car.

If you don’t have a phone hooked up using a USB cable, it’s a little embarrassing.

The “voice assistance” enabled on most cars these days, from nearly every automaker, is about seven years out of date. You can move to the next track for the current song, walk through a complex decision tree to get directions (usually in a way that requires you spell out the exact street names), and maybe activate the Bluetooth connection if you’re lucky. That’s it. An entire button on most new cars that basically does something you could do way back in 2010? Not good.

I know this because I first started testing cars around 2010, and the buttons worked the same way. They can’t come close to anything related to AI, don’t answer questions, can’t understand simple navigation requests, and are basically ornamental now that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have become so common. The problem, of course, is that CarPlay and Android Auto haven’t really changed that much in the past two years, so progress on voice assistants in cars, when you think about the market as a whole, has stalled out…or is at least waiting for Apple and Google to get busy with some new innovations beyond adding a few more commands and an app or two.

Don’t get me wrong, I like how the phone bots work. Once you connect up an iPhone or a Google Pixel phone, for example, you can control your…

Use a Gaming Mouse and Browse the Web Like a King

I’ve been a Mac user for a decade, but I’ve always hated Apple’s default one-button mouse, and I’ve never gotten comfortable with trackpad gestures. I grew up using a three-button mouse on the family Amiga. Years later, I loved scroll wheels, trackballs, and mice with thumb buttons, but I wanted more.

For the past six years I’ve used a 12-button gaming mouse. Not for gaming, and not for bizarre 3D applications, but so I can browse the web.

The default keyboard shortcuts for web browsing are anti-ergonomic. I spend most of my day in Chrome, using shortcuts like ctrl-shift-tab and option-command-left, a tabletop game of Twister that leaves me with a sore left thumb. I’ve tried custom keyboard shortcuts with Shortkeys, but every key combo still feels like a Rube Goldberg machine compared to the instant gratification of a dedicated mouse button.

This works outside a browser. Whether you spend your day in Word, Photoshop, PowerPoint, or Excel, you have a set of functions you use all the time, functions that deserve their own button. Follow me into the future of work.

Choose your mouse

Get the mouse that matches your comfort level. If you’re used to a simple two-button mouse, you might want to start out by just adding two thumb buttons. If you’re already adept with gestures, you’re ready for more. Here are the best options at each level.

Beginner mice

A lot of mice now come with two extra buttons above the thumb, for going back and forward in history. Even the $10 VicTsing MM057, Amazon’s top-selling mouse, has a pair. It’s a nice start, but it’s just that—the start of a mouse’s potential. Plus the thin, flimsy thumb buttons on many of these budget mice are easy to accidentally click.

Intermediate mice

Mice with more than two extra buttons are usually marketed to gamers. So they cost more, they include complex sensitivity settings that you won’t use, and they tend to look like Decepticons with tribal tattoos. If you can live with all that, $40-70 will get you a reliable mouse that will save your aching fingers for years.

The optimal arrangement spreads the extra buttons out among different fingers, so no one finger has to “remember” more than a couple movements. Logitech dominates this space with several moderately priced gaming mice.

My favorite is the Logitech G700s ($68), which adds eight extra buttons: four above the thumb, three by the forefinger, and two behind the scroll wheel. Most of the buttons are heavily contoured to suggest rocking back and forth…

How to Locate Your Lost Apple Watch

Whether your Apple Watch is missing because you took it off somewhere in your house, or because it mysteriously went missing from your gym locker, there are several features baked in that will help you locate it (as well as mark it lost and even wipe it).

What You Need to Find Your Apple Watch

In order to find your Apple Watch, you’ll need up-to-date software and a little bit of prep work. First and foremost, in order to even take advantage of the find-my-watch feature, you need to be running iOS 10 or higher and watchOS 3 or higher. (If you’ve never updated your watch before and want a run through, check out our guide to updating the Apple Watch here.)

In addition, the kind of Find My Watch features you’ll have access to and the range at which they work is limited by which hardware version of the Apple Watch you have. All features work on all Apple Watches as long as they are within Bluetooth range of their companion iPhone, but only the Apple Watch Series 2 has built-in Wi-Fi and GPS which allow the features to work if the phone is far away.

Finally, and we completely understand what a bitter discovery this will be if you’re reading this article after you’ve already lost your watch and are in a panic, you need to enable the Find My Phone feature on the iPhone your Apple Watch is paired with in advance, or the features won’t be accessible. Don’t worry though, there’s no additional setup: any Apple Watch that is paired with an iPhone that has Find My Phone enabled automatically adds the Apple Watch to your list of devices.

How to Find Your Apple Watch

You’re running up-to-date iOS and watchOS, you’ve enabled Find My Phone (automatically dragging your Apple Watch along for the ride), and now your watch is missing. Let’s first look at how to simply locate your watch when it is nearby and then move onto more drastic measures like remote locking and wiping.

To access both the basic and advanced features simply open the Watch app on your paired device and select the missing watch, like so:

Within the watch menu, click on the “i” additional information icon:

Select “Find My Apple Watch” to begin the search process.

That selection will take you to the “Find iPhone” app on your phone, with the app focused in on your watch (as an aside you can always use the Find iPhone app from the get go or even log into to use the web-based locator, but using the Watch app jumps you right to the relevant menu).

In the location menu, you’ll see your Apple Watch (if your phone can connect to the watch or your Apple Watch Series 2 watch can connect to the internet) with a rough location. Sometimes this is enough: if it looks like your watch is sitting in your car parked down the street there’s a good chance that, well, your watch is sitting in your car parked down the street. If not, you have other options.

Locate Your Phone with an Audio Alert

If you need more than…

Apple, Moving In on Prestige TV, Poaches Two Sony Executives

LOS ANGELES — As Apple takes the plunge into original television-style content, it has hired two of Hollywood’s most respected studio executives to oversee the effort.

On Friday, Apple named Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg to newly created positions overseeing worldwide video programming. The men, considered among the brightest of a rising generation of studio executives, are currently the leaders of Sony Pictures Television, the company behind high-quality cable dramas like “Breaking Bad,” major Netflix series like “The Crown” and broadcast network comedies like “The Goldbergs.”

In a blow to Sony, Mr. Erlicht, 48, and Mr. Van Amburg, 46, will start at Apple by the end of summer. They will report to Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for software and services. “We have exciting plans,” Mr. Cue said in a statement. “There is much more to come.”

Apple declined to elaborate. By hiring Mr. Erlicht and Mr. Van Amburg, however, Apple has sent a clear message to Hollywood: We are finally serious about building an original video business. In a statement, Mr. Erlicht said that Apple wanted programming of “unparalleled quality.” Agents, writers, producers, stars — and competitors like HBO — will interpret those words as meaning that Apple is ready to spend.

So far, Apple has only dipped a toe in the original video waters. In February, the company announced…

AI Weekly: Voice is the killer interface

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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…

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…