Amazon Alexa Developers Conference (10 Oct, London)

7 Oct capture

Exciting times for Amazon Alexa!


Amazon Echo

  • Alexa has crossed over 3,000 skills in the US Skill Store, up from 1,000 in June;
  • Alexa has just started shipping in the UK and is coming soon to Germany too. Echo and Echo Dot were just made available in the UK, whereas in Germany they are available by invitation for those who want to help shape Alexa as she evolves—the devices will start shipping next month.
  • Amazon has also announced a new Echo Dot,  enabled with new Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) which allows devices to determine which device a user is talking to (meaning that only one will respond, when multiple devices hear the user). The Dot will increase the number of devices Alexa can talk to in the home, creating an innovative customer experience. It will retail for £49.99 and Echo for £149.99.

Here are 2 neat little YouTube videos showing Alexa in action.



In this context, Amazon is bringing their Alexa training events to Europe in October. Hello Alexa London is on Monday 10th October. 

  • Developers, engineers, QA/testers and anyone who wants to learn how to build skills can participate in the full-day agenda from 8:30am – 4:30pm (+ Happy Hour afterwards!)
  • Business development, strategy and planning, VUX/UX /VUI, account teams, producers and project management professionals can participate in the Alexa Business Development for Agencies session later in the day from 3pm – 4:30pm (and then of course join the Happy Hour!). They can also join the breakfast session, Welcome to Alexa (a 45-minute keynote) and Hello Alexa (a 1-hour session on the basics of creating a skill: what goes into the design, build, test, publish) from 8:30am – 10:45am.
  • Click here to register (although the event is already sold out by now!)  and hope to see you there!

I am really excited at how ubiquitous speech recognition is becoming! It was already ubiquitous as we were dragging it around on our smartphones (Apple SIRI, Google Now), but now it’s penetrated our homes too, crossing over work/personal/family lives. The future is omni-channel but unimodal?!

Big unknowns: what is consciousness?

6 Aug

What does it mean to be “you”?

Is a bee conscious? What about a monocellular organism? Surely humans are special? 

How do we think about ourselves, how can we be thinking about our thinking and behaviour (metacognition) and how is all that possible given the structure of our brains?

There are more questions than answers but the quest for answers is fascinating in itself.

Meet META, the Meta-cognitive skills Training Avatar!

16 Jun


EU FP7 logo


Since November 2013, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the EU-funded FP7 R & D project, METALOGUE, through my company DialogCONNECTION Ltd, one of 10 Consortium Partners. The project aims to develop a natural, flexible, and interactive Multi-perspective and Multi-modal Dialogue system with meta-cognitive abilities; a system that can:

  • monitor, reason about, and provide feedback on its own behaviour, intentions and strategies, and the dialogue itself,
  • guess the intentions of its interlocutor,
  • and accordingly plan the next step in the dialogue.

The system tries to dynamically adapt both its strategy and behaviour (speech and non-verbal aspects) in order to influence the dialogue partner’s reaction, and, as a result, the progress of the dialogue over time, and thereby also achieve its own goals in the most advantageous way for both sides.

The project is in its 3rd and final year (ending in Oct 2016) and has a budget of € 3,749,000 (EU contribution: € 2,971,000). METALOGUE brings together 10 Academic and Industry partners from 5 EU countries (Germany, Netherlands, Greece, Ireland, and UK).


METALOGUE focuses on interactive and adaptive training situations, where negotiation skills play a key role in the decision-making processes. Reusable and customisable software components and algorithms have been developed, tested and integrated into a prototype platform, which provides learners with a rich and interactive environment that motivates them to develop meta-cognitive skills, by stimulating creativity and responsibility in the decision-making, argumentation, and negotiation process. The project is producing a virtual trainer, META, a Training Avatar capable of engaging in natural interaction in English (currently, with the addition of German and Greek in the future), using gestures, facial expressions, and body language.


Pilot systems have been developed for 2 different user scenarios: a) debatingand b) negotiation, both tested and evaluated by English-speaking students at the Hellenic Youth Parliament. We are currently targeting various industry verticals, in particular Call Centres, e.g. to semi-automate and enhance Call Centre Agent Training.


And here’s META in action!


In this video, our full-body METALOGUE Avatar is playing the role of a business owner, who is negotiating a smoking ban with a local Government Counsellor.   Still imperfect (e.g. there is some slight latency before replying – and an embarrassing repetition at some point!), but you can also see the realistic facial expressions, gaze, gestures, and body language, and even selective and effective pauses. It can process natural spontaneous speech in a pre-specified domain (smoking ban, in this case) and it has reached an ASR error rate below 24% (down from almost 50% 2 years ago!). The idea is to use such an Avatar in Call Centres to provide extra training support on top of existing training courses and workshops. It’s not about replacing the human trainer, but rather empowering and motivating Call Centre Trainee Agents who are trying to learn how to read their callers and how to successfully negotiate deals and even complaints with them in an optimal way.



My company, DialogCONNECTION, is charged with the task of attracting interest and feedback from industry to gauge the relevance and effectiveness of the METALOGUE approach in employee training contexts (esp. negotiation and decision-making). We are looking in particular for Call Centres;both small and agile (serving multiple small clients) and large (and probably plagued by the well-known agent burn-out syndrome). Ideally, you would give us access to real-world Call Centre Agent-Caller/Customer recordings or even simulated Trainer – Trainee phone calls that are used for situational Agent training (either already available or collected specifically for the project). A total of just 15 hours of audio (and video if available) would suffice to train the METALOGUE speech recognisers and the associated acoustic and language models, as well as its metacognitive models.

However, if you don’t want to commit your organisation’s data, any type of input and feedback would make us happy! As an innovative pioneering research project, we really need guidance, evaluation and any input from the real world of industry! So, if we have sparked your interest in any way and you want to get involved and give it a spin, please get in touch!

The Future of A.I. and the Mind

6 Jun

Just listened with great interest and amusement to Neil deGrasse Tyson‘s StarTalk Radio! podcast “Gazing into the Future with Ray Kurzweil“, where “your personal Astrophysicist” and Hayden Planetarium Director interviews the Futurist on his predictions on the future of A.I., the mind, and humankind in general.




The interview spans all kind of topics: from embodied and disembodied Artificial Intelligence (think Robots vs the Cloud), embodied and disembodied Human Intelligence (think getting hooked up with 3D printed body parts vs uploading your “brain” – or at least your memories – onto a computer chip), Nanorobots running through your bloodstream and even (Sex) Robots flirting with Polyamorous Roboticists! (sic!).



Kurzweil is being criticised by the other interviewee, Neuroscientist Gary Marcus, for being so specific about the dates on which each milestone is going to happen (Eliminate poverty by 2020? Eliminate disease by 2030? That would be nice). But they all agree that the future is coming, in some ways it’s already here, and that the moral questions posed or that should be posed are valid and tricky to answer: What’s the future of work? Can machines turn us into paperclips? Will we all be unemployed in the future? Can machines turn evil or will circumstances turn them destructive? (think of self-driving cars inadvertently colliding with one another in the vicinity of magnets). There are as many optimistic as pessimistic scenarios, but we are appeased that SkyNet is unlikely to become reality any time soon.


And we may simulate human intelligence and even language, but they ascertain it’s unrealistic to try and simulate the human brain itself with its billions of neurons and synapses in search of the foundations of this intelligence and linguistic aptitude.

But then again, as one of the sayings quoted in the show goes “When something doesn’t work, it’s A.I., when it does, it’s just (clever) Engineering”. Quite!


The 2015 stats are in!

20 Jan

The stats monkeys prepared an annual report for this blog.

Top blog posts in 2015 were: “A.I.: from Sci-Fi to Science reality” and the ever popular older “Speech Recognition for Dummies” and the classic “Voice-activated lift won’t do Scottish! (Burnistoun S1E1 – ELEVEN!“.

Scottish Elevator – Voice Recognition – ELEVEN!

(YouTube – Burnistoun – Series 1 , Episode 1 [ Part 1/3 ])

Voice recognition technology? …  In a lift? … In Scotland? … You ever TRIED voice recognition technology? It don’t do Scottish accents!



So, we had 4,500 unique visitors in 2015! Thank you!

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,500 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Check out some more stats in the full WordPress report.

Happy 2016!🙂

The winning Omni-Channel Customer Experience

8 Oct winning Omni-Channel Customer Experience

winning Omni-Channel Customer Experience

I just saw this really interesting and eye-opening infographic on LinkedIn and had to share.

Some really interesting statistics on current customer behaviour and attitudes towards brands and communication with them. E.g.

  • The probability of successfully Cross-selling and Up-selling to a potential customer is just 5%-20%, but a whooping 60-70% with an existing customer. (So, watch it and respect your existing customers please!)
  • More than 63% of customer service enquiries are initiated through social channels (So, watch your social media streams!)

Read more here

2014 was mainly about the METALOGUE EU project!

27 Feb

Here’s the 2014 annual report for this blog.

The EU METALOGUE project definitely dominated the year!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,900 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.