Facebook is the latest tech giant to hunt for AI talent in Canada

 Facebook is turning its attention to Canada with a new AI research office in Montreal. Google and Microsoft already have outposts in the city and countless other tech companies, including Uber, have researchers based in Canada. McGill University’s Joelle Pineau will be leading Facebook’s AI efforts in Montreal. Pineau’s research focus tends to lean heavily on robotics and… Read More

Microsoft’s speech recognition system hits a new accuracy milestone

 Microsoft announced today that its conversational speech recognition system has reached a 5.1% error rate, its lowest so far. This surpasses the 5.9% error rate reached last year by a group of researchers from Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research and puts its accuracy on par with professional human transcribers who have advantages like the ability to listen to text several times. Read More

Watch Microsoft’s Xbox One X Gamescom conference live right here

 Microsoft is about to share the last details on the Xbox One X with a press conference ahead of the Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. You can watch it live right here at 12 PM on the West Coast, 3 PM on the East Coast, 8 PM in the U.K., 9 PM in Germany. The company already said on Twitter that we can expect to hear more details about pre-orders for the Xbox One X: #XboxOneX pre-order info is… Read More

Microsoft announces Windows 10 Pro for Workstations

 Microsoft today announced a new version of Windows 10 that’s specifically geared toward professional users that use high-end hardware to support mission-critical workloads. As rumored, Windows 10 Pro for Workstations will feature Microsoft’s server-grade file system, support for persistent memory, faster file sharing with SMB Direct and support for high-end hardware. Read More

The evolution of machine learning

 Major tech companies have actively reoriented themselves around AI and machine learning: Google is now “AI-first,” Uber has ML running through its veins, and internal AI research labs keep popping up. They’re pouring resources and attention into convincing the world that the machine intelligence revolution is arriving now. They tout deep learning, in particular, as the… Read More

The Rise of Intelligent Assistants

I embarked on a 30 day blogging challenge to restore my childlike curiosity for writing (more about it here). Please sign up to my newsletter to receive the latest updates. This is day nine.

Today I’d like to cover Intelligent Assistants. Perhaps this is cheating a bit, because it’s a post I originally published on Medium on June 22nd. Then I had played with my first two home assistants (Amazon Echo I bought for my mom and a Google Home I received as a gift) and realised the potential these devices have not only in the home, but very soon also in the car

This year, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant at least once a month, doubling last year’s figure, forecasts eMarketer. I don’t normally like to predict things, but here’s one: Home assistants are here to stay.

Home assistants (connected speakers and screens used at home) will become mainstream and will join the list of basic appliances for the home.

It will be partly contributed by rapid decline in prices and bundles with mobile operators, cable /ISP providers etc. The manufacturers will just want you to have one. The use case will start as basic: they will power shopping for the home, digital media plays (images, videos, music, podcasts) and perhaps be the hub for managing all other connected appliances.

Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Alibaba already have a play in the space. Who’s next?

I predict that Facebook will come out with a home assistant in the next year, based on Mark’s pet project “Jarvis” (learn more about it here). The product will either be Facebook made hardware (maybe by someone from the Oculus team?) or a powerful digital app for Google Home, Apple’s Homepod and Amazon Echo/ Alexa. Microsoft will eventually launch one too, who knows, Maybe Twitter will have its own flavour with breaking news alerts and real-time updates: highlights from your sports games, live streaming and TV reminders. Of course, soon enough we’ll find the cheap Chinese version at Walmart.

Will Mark Zuckerberg’s pet project become the next big market for Facebook?

What’s at stake for the large tech companies? Data primarily, but also premium subscriptions and engagement. The first thing you’re asked when installing Google Home is to connect to a music service. There are currently only two options?—?Google Music (one month free, £9.99 thereafter) or Spotify (you must have a paid subscription to use it on Google Home). They are adding Soundcloud and Deezer soon, as announced on Google I/O in May. There’s no option to connect to YouTube, because it’s free. Same goes for the Echo?—?unless you’re a Prime subscriber, you’ll get limited usability with the Echo, but paying £79.99 unlocks TV, Music and other content.

Google home is positioned as “it’s your own Google, always there to help”. Google invested a lot in voice recognition is connecting the speaker to a long list of compatible partners.

Apple

Apple just joined the market with the HomePod, and is trying to differentiate on the quality of the speaker and the beauty of the design. You can see the differences in this helpful chart by Business Insider:

 

Apple Homepod - “A breakthrough speaker all round”

Apple Homepod – “A breakthrough speaker all round”

Amazon

Amazon, the pioneer in the space, recently introduced Amazon Echo Showand added a screen to the speaker, as well as new capabilities like Alexa calling (Google just announced hands-free calling from Google Home at Google IO in May). Google is likely to follow with its own screen product shortly, but for now it’s focusing on connecting Google Home to the TV and showing content on the TV using voice commands. Google is already trying to catch up with the Echo’s 10,000 skills.

 

Amazon Echo Show - “Voice control your world”

Amazon Echo Show – “Voice control your world”

Amazon Echo Install base – source: Business Insider

Facebook

On July 24th (about a month after originally publishing this post), my prediction came true! Facebook is rumoured to be working on a smart speaker with a 15 inch touch screen, according to Digitimes. The news were leaked though sources from the “upstream supply chain”. Instead of voice recognition functionality, the company will focus more on image display. The development of Facebook’s intelligent assistant is being handled by Facebook’s Building 8, under the leadership of Regina Dugan, former Google vice president of advanced technology and projects (Google ATAP) and veteran of DARPA. More on Techcrunch.

The Facebook smart speaker received a further boost yesterday, with the announcement of Facebook’s acquisition of Ozlo, a self described index of knowledge about the real world. Users can ask Ozlo’s bot questions and its AI-powered assistant can quickly answer thanks to “a knowledge graph containing over 2 billion entities”. This technology will no doubt be instrumental to power the new Facebook Home Assistant. You’ve read it here first folks! Ozlo will be joining the Messenger team. More on Business Insider.

Facebook’s conversational UI will fit well in the world of Smart Assistants

Alibaba

On July 3rd, Alibaba announced its own Alexa competitor which only speaks Chinese addressing the local Chinese Market.

The Tianmao JinglingX1 (Mandarin for “Tmall Genie”), offers voice-control over other connected smart home devices as well as on-demand weather, news updates, and streaming music. The Tmall Genie can also order products from Alibaba’s Tmall online shopping site. Amazon does not currently offer Chinese-language support for its Echo device.

Alibaba’s Tianmao JinglingX1 smart speaker

Samsung

On July 4th news came out that Samsung is said to be making a smart speaker powered by its digital assistant Bixby. While Samsung already has a line of smart speakers, today they can only play music. Needless to say that this future smart assistant device will face steep competition from the get go, as Samsung is coming late to the party.

Samsung's Multiroom 360 speaker - a predecessor of a smart assistant speaker?

Samsung’s Multiroom 360 speaker – a predecessor of a smart assistant speaker?

Microsoft and Harman Kardon

On May 8th, a leak confirmed that Microsoft is also coming out with the Invoke speaker, a Cortana-powered smart speaker for the home and the car in partnership with tier one supplier to the automotive industry, Harman Kardon. The Invoke speaker will include 360-degree sound, Skype calling, and the ability to ask Cortana questions. Microsoft announced the product on May 8th, and it will be available this fall. More about it on the Verge.

The Invoke Hero is a Cortana powered smart speaker by Harman Kardon

Xiaomi

On July 26th, Xiaomi announced a $45 smart speaker, called Mi AI. The Verge points out that it’s $130 cheaper than Amazon Echo. the six-microphone Mi AI Speaker features a digital assistant and lets users control IoT devices from Xiaomi and select third-parties; available in China from August; unclear if or when it will launch it other markets.

Xiaomi MI AI speaker – costs $130 less than Amazon Echo

Where is the Intelligent Assistant market going?

AI powered assistant, always on, connected to devices… sounds familiar? The connected speakers of today, will be the control hub for the smart home of the future, replacing our use of phones at home and perhaps being the predecessors of home robots. Think about it, if the Robot can fulfil our every request, stream in HD, chat with your pets, clean and run errands around the house, we’re pretty close to that already. In fact, an early version is already here: take a look at Kuri, by Mayfield Robotics.

That said, there are still significant  limitations in the voice human-machine interface, namely that we still find it a bit awkward talking to a device, especially in public. As AI improves along with voice recognition and the ability of these machines to understand accents and increase the functionality, I can imagine my kids growing with smart assistants in a natural way, and continue to use them in the car and home throughout the day. The new search interface may not be a google homepage/app.

 

Minecraft’s cross-platform “Better Together” update arrives in beta

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Messaging Landscape 2017

“Take a moment think who would actually miss you if you deactivate all your social networking accounts, whatsapp, BBM etc”?—?Anamika Mishra

I’ve started a 30 day blogging challenge (more about it here and you can subscribe for the newsletter). This is day two. Today I’ll be touching on one of the fastest growing categories in tech?—?messaging. Now bigger than social media, messaging apps are on practically every phone, and only growing in engagement. This post is just my own learning process about this subject.

Today you message your friends and family mainly. Tomorrow, you’ll be messaging bots who will do your grocery shopping, book your travel and resolve your customer service issues. Search results in a few years from now, will not necessarily be on Google…

If you think about it, Messaging apps are the most viral. In order for the user experience to be fun and useful, you need to have friends in there, so connecting to your contacts and inviting people is inherent in the onboarding process of the apps.

Messaging is “mostly” private

While Social Networks also enable you to share text, media and documents with your friend, there’s always a question for the user of who has access to that data. With Messaging, there’s a built-in assumption, that it’s a private communication. The reason I’m saying “mostly” is that not all platforms are encrypted. Here’s an interesting chart on who has access to your messages, by Amnesty International:

Who can read your private messages, by Amnesty Interntaional

Who can read your private messages, by Amnesty Interntaional

Even the biggest companies are susceptible to cyber attacks. This is from March 2017:

Testing that was conducted by Amnesty International shows that Signal Private Messenger (iOS, Play) by Open Whisper Systems is probably the best and easiest to use secure messaging app available today.

We give up privacy to avoid controversy

Controversy comes from authorities need to monitor communication to detect threats. Encryption, while it’s important to us as consumers, can come at a cost of others using the platforms for malicious purpose.

In summary

messaging apps are the new social networks, they are valuable, important and sticky. But they’re also not completely private and vulnerable to attacks.

So, where are Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Snapchat when it comes to messaging?

The space is crowded, but the large companies dominate the messaging category in the app stores.

Messaging Apps on the Play Store

Facebook offers messaging as part of every product

Facebook is the dominant player in mobile messaging with 1.2 billion monthly active users for Messenger. But Messaging in Facebook is everywhere you look:  your feed, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram has it’s own chat… and then you have Facebook for work, so you can keep chatting in the office. This week it was announced that Facebook will start monetising Messenger via ads. To get a sense of the scale of this dominance, Axios reports: “Facebook-owned WhatsApp is the number one messaging app in 107 countries around the world, and Facebook’s Messenger is number one in 58 countries, according to a SimilarWeb study”

Apple concentrates on iMessage and Facetime

On Apple, all the messaging can elegantly by done via iMessage (text) and Facetime (audio, voip, video). The quality feels better than most other messaging apps, but functionality is limited.

Microsoft bet on Skype

Skype seems to have fared well in the migration from desktop to mobile. Used for both business and personal, Skype helps users engage with their entire rolodex.

Google’s strategy: Try Everything

Hangouts, Allo, Duo. Even though the dream of every consumer is to have the messaging apps somehow communicate with each other, Google is trying multiple strategies, to see what sticks.

The Verge summarised it well in this article from June 2016:

“So Google has three different ways it’s trying to get back into the messaging race. And again, it is very far behind. But when you’re behind in a race you can’t drop out of, there’s really only one thing you can do: just keep running.”

Snapchat started in messaging

Before Snapchat became a platform for media consumption, it was mainly used for ephemeral messaging. Teenagers replaced texting with Snapchat, but it’s still “only” around 166 millions daily active users.

Snapchat is also concerned from getting every feature copied by Facebook, so it recently acqui-hired the team behind Strong.Code, a way to protect software against reverse engineering by obscuring the code.

What about Amazon? 

Alexa is the closest thing it has to Messaging. There are rumours that Amazon is working on a new messaging app called Anytime. According to Techcrunch, Anytime is “… a full-featured, standalone messaging app for smartphones, tablets, PCs and smart watches designed to let people chat with text and video, send each other fun photos with filters, play games and engage with other Amazon services like music and food ordering (and other shopping), and interact with businesses.”

Amazon Anytime
Amazon Anytime Feature list

Other established players in the messaging landscape

Telegram (Russia, boasted 100 million monthly active users world wide in Feb 2016) can now send disappearing messages just like Snapchat, WeChat (762 million monthly active users in China in June 2016), Line (218 million monthly users in June 2016, two-thirds of whom are from Japan) and Kakaotalk (49 million active users worldwide as of March 2017). Also Viber (260 million monthly active users) Kik and Tango. The Asian messaging apps are years ahead in terms of functionality, and have cracked something that their Western counterparts have not: Monetisation.

Source: Line and WeChat Strike Advertising Gold?—?WSJ, June 22 2016

Who’s winning in messaging?

Quartz looked at the popularity of messaging apps by country, and it’s clear win for Facebook:

Source: Facebook’s global dominance of messaging, in two maps
What does a 2 billion reach look like

Facebook just announced last week that it will start monetising Messenger with ads. Jarrod Dicker from Washington Post thinks that this is kind of the end of websites (I say, not so quickly…). In addition Facebook is

Source: eMarketer, Line, Tencent, pymnts.com; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Facebook is rumoured to also be building a standalone app to compete with Houseparty, a standalone group video chat app that’s popular amongst millennials. Houseparty is by the team behind the Meerkat app, which was blocked from Twitter following the acquisition of Periscope.

In his excellent post on the Messaging Landscape 2016, Ben Eidelson, said:

“Messaging is going to bring this human touch back to person-to-business dealings online and give businesses a chance to provide assistance to their customers in a way that has never been better for customers”.

This implies a huge business opportunity for the companies that will able to adapt from web/mobile UI to conversational/chat UI, ideally powered by AI.


Hope you enjoyed my first 30 day challenge post. Subscribe here for the next ones.