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An Amazon Echo in every hotel room?

16 Dec

The Wynn Las Vegas Hotel just announced that it will be installing the Amazon Echo device in every one of its 4,748 guest rooms by Summer 2017. Apparently, hotel guests will be able to use Echo, Amazon’s hands-free voice-controlled speaker, to control room lights, temperature, and drapery, but also some TV functions.

 

CEO Steve Wynn:  “I have never, ever seen anything that was more intuitively dead-on to making a guest experience seamlessly delicious, effortlessly convenient than the ability to talk to your room and say .. ‘Alexa, I’m here, open the curtains, … lower the temperature, … turn on the news.‘ She becomes our butler, at the service of each of our guests”.

 

The announcement does, however, also raise security concerns. The Alexa device is always listening, at least for the “wake word”. This is, of course, necessary for it to work when you actually need it. It needs to know when it is being “addressed” to start recognising what you say and hopefully act on it afterwards. Interestingly, though, according to the Alexa FAQ:

 

When these devices detect the wake word, they stream audio to the cloud, including a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word.

That could get embarrassing or even dangerous, especially if the “wake word” was actually a “false alarm“, i.e. something the guest said to someone else in the room perhaps that sounded like the wake word.

All commands are saved on the device’s History. The question is: Will the hotel automatically wipe the device’s history once a guest has checked out? Or at least before the next guest arrives in the room! Can perhaps every guest have access to their own history of commands, so that they can delete it themselves just before check-out? These are crucial security aspects that the Hotel needs to consider, because it would be a shame for this seamlessly delicious and effortlessly convenient experience to be cut short by paranoid guests switching the Echo off as soon as they enter the room!

Amazon Alexa Developers Conference (10 Oct, London)

7 Oct

Exciting times for Amazon Alexa!

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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?!

Develop your own Android voice app!

26 Dec

Voice application Development for Android

My colleague Michael F. McTear has got a new and very topical book out! Voice Application Development for Android, co-authored with Zoraida Callejas. Apart from a hands-on step-by-step but still condensed guide to voice application development, you get the source code to develop your own Android apps for free!

Get the book here or through Amazon. And have a look at the source code here.

Exciting times ahead for do-it-yourself Android speech app development!

The AVIxD 49 VUI Tips in 45 Minutes !

6 Nov

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The illustrious Association for Voice Interaction Design (AVIxD) organised a Workshop in the context of SpeechTEK in August 2010, whose goal was “to provide VUI designers with as many tips as possible during the session“. Initially the goal was 30 Tips in 45 minutes. But they got overexcited and came up with a whooping 49 Tips in the end! The Session was moderated by Jenni McKienzie, and the panelists were David Attwater, Jon Bloom, Karen Kaushansky, and Julie Underdahl. This list dates back 3 years now, but it’s by no means outdated. This is the most sound advice you will find in designing better voice recognition IVRs and I hated it being buried in a PDF!

So I am audaciously plagiarising and bringing you here: the 49 VUI Tips for Better Voice User Interface Design! Or go and read the .PDF yourselves here:

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And finally ….

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Have you got a VUI Tip you can’t find in this list that you’d like to share? Tell us here!

 

XOWi: The wearable Voice Recognition Personal Assistant

30 Oct

I just found out about the new venture of my colleagues, Ahmed Bouzid and Weiye Ma, and I’m all excited and want to spread the word!

They came up with the idea of a Wearable and hence Ubiquitous Personal Voice Assistant, XOWi (pronounced Zoe). The basic concept is that XOWi is small and unintrusive (you wear it like a badge or pin it somewhere near you) but still connects to your smartphone and through that to all kinds of apps and websites for communicating with people (Facebook, Twitter, Ebay) and controlling data and information (selecting TV channels, switching the aircon on). Moreover, it is completely voice-driven, so it is completely hands- and eyes-free. This means that it won’t distract you (if you’re driving, reading, working) and if you have any vision impairment or disability, you are still completely connected and communicable. So, XOWi truly turns Star Trek into reality! The video below explains the concept:


The type of application context is exemplified by the following diagram.

XOWi architecture

And here is how it works:

Ahmed and Weiye have turned to Kickstarter for crowdfunding. If they manage to get $100,000 by 21st November, XOWi will become a product and I will get one for my birthday in March 2014! 😀 Join the Innovators and support the next generation in smart communicators!

The first time ever someone ordered a pizza with a computer!

23 Jan

In 1974 Donald Sherman, whose speech was limited by a neurological disorder called Moebius Syndrome, used a new-fangled device designed by John Eulenberg to dial up a pizzeria. The first call went to Dominos, which hung up. They were apparently too busy becoming a behemoth. Mercifully, a humane pizzeria – Mr. Mike’s – took the call, and history was made. It all plays out below, and we hope that Mr. Mike’s is still thriving all these years later….” (Smithsonian.com Blog)

Speech synthesis on this computer was rather slow, and it also apparently required “Yes/No” questions to just simply generate a “Yes” or a “No” too. Still, it could also synthesize other phrases, such as the pizza toppings (pepperoni and mushrooms, salami ...), the complex delivery address (the Michigan State Computer Science Department), as well as the contact number for callback. So not bad at all!

I was touched by the patience and kindness of the pizza place employee. He would patiently wait for up to 5 seconds for any answer, which must have been unnerving in itself! And now he is part of History! Good on him!! And well done to the Michigan State University‘s Artificial Language Laboratory and Dr. John Eulenberg!

TEDxManchester 2012: Voice Recognition FTW!

12 Sep

After the extensive TEDxSalford report, and the TEDxManchester Best-of, it’s about time I posted the YouTube video of my TEDxManchester talk!

TEDxManchester took place on Monday 13th February this year at one of the iconic Manchester locations – and my “local” – the Cornerhouse. Among the luminary speakers were people I have always been admiring, such as the radio Goddess Mary Anne Hobbs, and people I have become very close friends with over the years – which has led me to an equal amount of admiration, such as Ian Forrester (@cubicgarden to most of us). You can check out their respective talks, as well as some awesome others, in my TEDxManchester report below.

My TEDxManchester talk

I spoke about the weird and wonderful world of Voice Recognition (“Voice Recognition FTW!”): from the inaccurate – and far too often funny – simple voice-to-text apps and dictation systems on your smartphones, to the most frustrating automated Call Centres, to the next generation, sophisticated SIRI and everything in-between. I explained why things go wrong and when things can go wonderfully right. The answer is “CONTEXT”; the more you have of it , the more accurate and relevant the interpretation of user intention will be, and the more relevant and impressive the system reaction / reply will be.

Here is finally my TEDxManchester video on YouTube.

And below are my TEDxManchester slides.