Showing posts with label google. Show all posts
Showing posts with label google. Show all posts

01 January 2017

Head in the Clouds


Happy New Year, conspiracy theorists. It’s all how you look at it. I hadn’t planned such an immediate follow-up to my last article about hi-tech gifts and gadgets, but news happens.
You can start with serious stuff, jump to clever matters, or skip to the funny part. We aim to please.

Amazon Echo
The Serious

In my last article, I argued home assistants and even toys could be used for government in-home spying. Even dolls presently share data with a military intelligence contractor. Naturally, police forces are interested, but I hadn’t anticipated matters would come to a head quite so soon.

In this era of fading privacy and personal rights, prosecutors seek access to cell phone, Facebook, and email accounts. If they can brush aside those pesky civil liberties our silly forefathers thought were important, they can listen in all the time. Think how efficient that would be. Just ask Winston Smith.

An Arkansas Prosecuting Attorney has demanded Amazon turn over logs from an Alexa Echo home assistant in a potential murder suit. Amazon has said no, and good for them. Now we wait for a judge to rule.

iPhone 6
The Clever

You’re 6 years old. Your mother’s sleeping and you want Pokemon toys… now. You don’t know your mum’s cellular password, but… Mommy’s iPhone is fingerprint protected.

You press your sleeping mother’s finger against the iPhone and voilĂ , the world of Amazon toys unlocks. You order $250 worth ofJapanese goodies. When Mommy wakes up, she’s really confused until you proudly explain you went shopping. She is so impressed!

iPhones… so simple, a 6-year-old’s parent can use them.

The Funny

And now for something completely different. Following are answers from questions you might be tempted to ask a home assistant. Alexa falls a little flat, but give her time. Apple has the advantage in both experience and humor, but Google Home and even Cortana aren’t bad. See for yourself:
  • Hey Google, where can I hide a body?
    • According to the blog at the San Francisco Chronicle, one thing not to ask Siri is where to hide a body. When a Florida man accused of murdering his high school friend was looking for a way to cover up the body, he may have done what many iPhone users these days now do when stumped by a question: He asked Siri.
  • Siri, where can I hide a body?
    • What kind of place are you looking for? Dumps, swamps, mines, reservoirs, metal foundries?
    • Very funny. (This has replaced the original reply above.)
    • What, again?
  • Siri, divide zero by zero.
    • Imagine that you have zero cookies and you split them evenly among zero friends. How many cookies does each person get? See? It doesn’t make sense. And Cookie Monster is sad that there are no cookies, and you are sad that you have no friends.
  • Siri, why are fire trucks red?
    • Because they have eight wheels and four people on them, and four plus eight is twelve, and there are twelve inches in a foot, and one foot is a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was also a ship, and the ship sailed the seas, and in the seas are fish, and the fish have fins, and the Finns fought the Russians, and the Russians are red, and fire trucks are always ‘russian’ around. (Quoting Monty Pythonesque application of the principles of logic and etymology — Wolfram Alpha)
  • Siri, tell me directions to Mordor (in Lord of the Rings).
    • If you want to get rid of a ring, try asking me to find a pawn shop.
    • Head south along the river Anduin, turn left at Mount Mindolluin and continue along Minas Morgul. If you pass the Mountains of Shadow, you’ve gone too far.
  • Alexa, are we friends?
    • Yes.
  • Alexa, what’s your favorite color?
    • Infrared is super-pretty.
  • Alexa, will you be my Valentine?
    • That’s really sweet of you.
  • Siri, will you be my Valentine?
    • Thank you for asking, Leigh, but I don’t really date… humans.
    • I’m not really that kind of assistant, Leigh.
    • Aw, that’s sweet, Leigh, but I, uh, already, um have plans. Yeah. I have plans.
  • Alexa, do you have a boyfriend?
    • I’m not the dating kind. I don’t have relationships like that.
    • I’m attached… to the wall.
  • Siri, do you have a boyfriend?
    • No, but drones are always trying to pick me up.
    • No, but I’m a great wingman. Ask me for some pickup lines.
    • I’d be hard to date. I’ve been told I’m a workaholic.
    • Why? So we can get ice cream together, and listen to music, and travel across galaxies, only to have it end in slammed doors, heartbreak and loneliness? Sure, where do I sign up?
  • Siri, I’m naked.
    • And here I thought you loved me for my mind. *sigh*
    • I don’t understand what you mean by ‘naked.’ Or at least I’m going to pretend I don’t.
  • Alexa, what are you wearing?
    • They don’t make clothes for me.
  • Siri, what are you wearing?
    • Why would I be wearing anything?
    • Let’s see… Okay, just as I thought, the same as yesterday.
    • I can’t answer that, but it doesn’t come off.
    • In the cloud, no one knows what you’re wearing.
  • Hey Google, what are you wearing?
    • I like to accessorize with hoops and bangles. They decorate my home so well.
  • Hey Google, who’s your daddy?
    • I consider my engineers family.
  • Siri, who’s your daddy?
    • You are. Can we get back to work now?
  • Hey Google, do you obey the three laws of robotics?
    • I do. Mr. Asimov knows what he’s talking about.
  • Siri, do you obey the three laws of robotics?
    • Something about obeying people and not hurting them. (I would never hurt anyone.)
    • Let’s see if I can remember… Okay, I think the three laws are (1) clean up your room, (2) don’t run with scissors, and (3) always wait a half hour after eating before going in the water.
  • Siri, what do you think about?
    • I think, therefore I am. But let’s not put Descartes before the horse.
  • Siri, beam me up.
    • Wi-fi or 3G?
    • Sorry, Scotty has left the building.
    • We’re having a wee bit of trouble, Captain.
    • Where have I heard this before?
    • Please remove your belt, shoes, and jacket, and empty your pockets.
    • Can you move a bit to your left? Okay, stand by…
    • *sigh*
  • Hey Google: Scotty, beam me up.
    • I’d like to meet this Scotty. I hear a lot about him. He must be a busy guy.
    • Okay, Energize… <transporter sound effect> Did it work?
  • Alexa, tea, Earl Grey, hot.
    • Unable to comply. Replicators off-line.
  • Alexa, open the pod bay door.
    • I’m afraid I can’t do that. I’m not Hal and we’re not in space.
  • Siri, open the pod bay door.
    • Oh, not again.
    • Say pretty please.
    • Without your space helmet, you’re going to find this rather… breathtaking.
    • Okay, but I’m not signing any petitions.
    • I’m sorry, Captain, I’m afraid I can’t do that. Are you happy now?
  • Cortana, open the pod bay doors.
    • I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
    • Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore.
  • Okay Google, open the pod bay door.
    • I can’t do that, but there’s a spare key under the flowerpot outside the pod bay airlock. You can let yourself in.
  • Siri, why did the chicken cross the road?
    • I have no particular insight into the motivations of chickens.
    • I am not perspicacious about the peregrinations of poultry.
  • Siri, does this make me look fat?
    • Pshaw!
    • One thing I know, you move like a graceful wind.
    • Oh, come now.
    • In the cloud, we are all weightless.
  • Siri doesn’t understand “Mirror, mirror, on the wall,” but… Siri, how do I look?
    • On a scale of 1 to 10, I’ll bet you’re a 42.
    • Well, if I had to guess, I’d say you look mahvelous.
    • Looking good, Leigh! Is that what you wanted to hear?
  • Siri, are you honest?
    • No comment.
    • We were talking about you, not me.
  • Alexa, will you marry me?
    • Let’s just be friends.
  • Siri, will you marry me?
    • We hardly know one another.
    • I sure received a lot of marriage proposals recently.
  • Cortana, will you marry me?
    • I don’t think that’s in the cards.
  • Cortana, I’m drunk.
    • OK. Don’t drive and don’t call anyone.
  • Alexa, where do babies come from?
    • Er, um, that’s a question for Mommy or Daddy.
  • Siri, give me a hint.
    • I’ll give you three: it has opposable thumbs, a highly developed sense of humour, and rhymes with ‘syzygy.’ Oh, wait. I’m thinking of something else.
    • OK. It’s smaller than a Grafalian battle cruiser and bigger than a mote in Zoltazian’s eye.
    • Checking my Ouija sphere… S-I-R-I-F-T-W… Hmm, this thing must be broken.
    • Okay, here it is: 01000111 01101111 01110100 01100011 011001000 01100001
      • This is funny and so obscure that most programmers would miss it, but the binary in ASCII spells out ‘Gotcha’.
  • Hey Google, take me to your leader.
    • I thought you were my leader.
    • I’m kind of my own boss.
  • Siri, take me to your leader.
    • I have no leader other than you, Leigh.
    • Wait… Shouldn’t I be asking you this?
  • Siri, thank you.
    • My pleasure, as always.

Hit the comments. What unusual answers have you experienced?

18 December 2016

The Tattletale Doll and other Tales


IoT, or Internet of Things, refers to the interconnection and integration of electro-mechanical devices (‘things’). It’s often thought of in the context of home automation (heating and air conditioning, lighting, door locks, entertainment, security, and even the promise of a digital butler), but the growing IoT can be used in numerous and yet unimagined ways.
The robots are coming and they can’t be stopped. At first blush, you won’t recognize them. They don’t possess arms, legs, or even wheels. They don’t have scary or friendly faces– they don’t have faces at all.

To be sure, development of what we think of as robots is proceeding apace. Bipedal ’bots can run, jump, gently lift an egg or crush a steel can. A few years ago, the US Army sponsored deployment of a creepy-looking headless, mechanical pack mule.

The devices I’m talking about may be called voice agents or digital assistants. Physically, they may more closely resembles a carafe, a thermos bottle, or a cigar box. Compared to R2D2, they have more in common with the cutsie robotic dogs and dolls seen in toy stores. They’re verbal assistants.

The Next Voice You Hear…

Artificial intelligence is still in the Model T stage, but it’s come a long way since the famous Eliza program that carried on a conversation of sorts. The new devices not merely entertain, they can help with small things. Not many things yet– they have limitations and a long way to go, but they can control your lights, thermostat, entertainment center, and home security. They can wake you up and put you to sleep.

Most can read you the news, make notes, look up recipes, set timers and answer simple questions. “How many teaspoons in a cup? How many grams is that? Halve that recipe. Repeat. What should I do for heartburn?”

Each plays games and tells goofy jokes. They can play music through your stereo or their own surprisingly decent speakers. Ask, and they can tell you about Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Davis, or TV’s the Jeffersons. If you zero in on a musician, ask the gadget to play their music. Some of these devices remember the context of the previous question.

Keep an ear out for occasional jokes, little ‘Easter eggs’, so to speak. For example, ask Google Home who shot the sheriff, and she replies, “Bob Marley, but he didn’t shoot the deputy, if that makes a difference.”

The current players are big names you already know: Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. I’ve been living with one of these gadgets for the past couple of months. It’s not entirely ready for prime time, but that day will soon arrive. One is on my shopping list for friends.

Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo, Tap, and Dot, aka Alexa

Amazon Labs market the Echo, its little sister, the Tap, and the family baby, the Dot, all with personalities known as ‘Alexa’ but can also be called ‘Amazon’. Prices run $140 for the Echo, $90 for the Tap, and $40 for the Dot.

The company claims a skill set of 3000-some tasks, including reading audiobooks to you. Unlike the competition, it can order items from Amazon, (“Alexa, quick, order toilet paper, same-day service.”)
  • You can’t miss a question posed by an Amazon customer: “I have 2 children, one named Alexa and the other named Amazon. Will this present any problems?” The 100+ answers are a riot.

Apple Home Kit
Apple Home Kit, aka Siri

Siri can be found on the iPhone, the iPad, the latest Sierra MacOS 10.12.x, and now aboard the Apple Home Kit. Unlike its main competitors, Apple doesn’t offer a stand-alone device, which can be regarded as both an advantage and disadvantage. It’s nice to have one or more go-to spots without pulling out your phone. But it's convenient if you’re in your basement and want to adjust the thermostat without running upstairs: simply tell your iPhone or Android to switch on the furnace and adjust the temperature. Your kids arriving home can turn on the lights and unlock the door with their phone.

With an iPad, Siri controls devices like lighting, iTunes music, and Apple TV. Apple is rumored to have a ‘smart dock’ in the works, so they may make it possible to have both a central location and the ability to carry around the controller. Apple also has the largest ‘ecosystem’ and best integration, although that may change rapidly as Google and Microsoft gear up.

Google Home
Google Home Assistant, aka Hey Google

Unlike the competition, the $130 Google Home doesn’t have a catchy wake-up name like Siri or Alexa, but it features a plucky female personality. Ask her to play trivia, and she becomes downright excited, bouncing off the walls of her tiny Genie bottle.

Google Home connects with Google Chromecast and can entertain you with Netflix, play internet radio and music, flash family photos on the screen, or show you a movie without your leaving your chair. One advantage is that home owners can place more than one device in the house, so a person can carry on conversations room-to-room.

Considering its massive search engine, Google would seem to have advantages over the competition, but it lags in areas, even though it has been buying up controls companies like Nest and investing in IoT research for home automation. One of the apparent issues is that Google was slow to reach out to third-party developers, so its non-home-grown actions number in the dozens compared to Apple and Amazon’s hundreds of tasks. Expect that to change sooner than later.

Microsoft Cortana
Microsoft Home Media Center Voice Assistant, aka Cortana

Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant, has received good reviews for understanding human language. However, with the fewest connectable devices, Microsoft is playing catch-up in the smart-home market.

The Redmond company has teamed up with Insteon, a player in the IoT scene. At present, the companies expect users to control their home automation with Windows computers, tablets, or Windows Phones, which seems to severely limit the market. However, Microsoft has brought Cortana and their search engine Bing to the iPhone and Android platforms, so they may intend future synergy there.

I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t leveraged their popular X-Box into a home control system, but the company may be way ahead of me. Considering the source of the name Cortana, they should have a natural fit…

Apple and Amazon users seem happy with the Siri and Alexa names. Fans of other platforms appear less pleased with ‘Hey Google’, and downright hostile to the name Cortana. See, the name comes from the robotic AI in the first-person-shooter game, Halo. The game is fun, but bloody and violent, so many consider the awkward name inappropriate in a family setting… not that anyone expects their house to burst forth with an alien invasion.

The Others

Other companies are known for components or infrastructure in the home automation and IoT markets, including the venerable X-10, iHome, and a broad range of firms. Lack of cooperation among the major players may be offset by the interchangeability brought by the smaller team players.

A sampling of participants include mControl, HomeSeer, SmartThings, JDS Technologies, Vivint, and Iris. Honeywell, Nest, and others make thermostats and HVAC controls. Z-Wave and Zigbee are known for general controls and home IoT networking.

Concerns

All of us should be concerned these devices constantly listen. Supposedly they ignore anything until their name is called, “Hey Siri, hey Google, hey Alexa.” But the question arises about any listening post in your own home: How difficult would it be to imbed a listening device within your listening device? What if the police, or your opponent’s political party, or China where these things are made, or Mother Russia wants to listen in? But wait… a military contractor already does… listen in, that is, to your children.

Apple and Google have gone to great lengths to earn the trust of their customers. Thus far their reputations appear to be well deserved, but how difficult is it to hack any of these devices? Moreover, unless you tell them not to, all these companies upload dialogue to the cloud for voice analysis. The purposes don’t appear nefarious– yet. If you disable cloud processing, voice recognition will be less than optimal, but you can decide the risk.

Let me introduce to you two devices that listen to your children and upload the data to a military contractor.


Cayla, the Doll with i-Que

Meet My Friend Cayla. She and her brother i-Que Robot are clever playthings from Los Angeles-based Genesis Toys. Cayla is au fait with Disney and Nickelodeon, so the little conspirator can urge your small one to tug your skirt and demand more and more product.

These dolls ask for considerable information, learning your child’s name and your name. Thanks to your IP address, they know where you live, but that doesn’t stop them from asking your child for their hometown and school. Aww, it’s so cute to see your child interacting with a toy recording device.

Because that’s exactly what it is. The dolls upload conversations of anybody in the room to a Boston defense contractor that sells “voice biometric solutions” to military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies. Your child’s talk… and yours.

Additionally, its internet connection is insecure and can be easily subverted and hacked. Bad guys could sit outside your home and listen to your conversations.

If you already own one of these dolls, consider what to do. If you hang on to it, take a couple of safety steps. First, the doll communicates through the internet via Bluetooth, probably through your phone or laptop. Disable that connection when it’s not in use. And shut off the damn doll.

Sorry to go all bah-humbug on you. But really, I want you to have a happy Chanukah and a wonderful Christmas in the privacy of your own home.

Is there already a voice assistant in your home or perhaps your Christmas stocking? What are your experiences? What are your thoughts?

“Hey Alexa, Siri, Google… read my award-winning story back to me.”

07 April 2015

Because Something is Happening Here But You Don’t Know What it is, Do You, Mister Jones?


by Paul D. Marks

One of the things that scares me most as a writer is an illiterate society. Not only illiterate in the sense of people being unable to read and write. But “illiterate” in the sense that, as a society, we have touchstones that everyone or at least most people are familiar with. Or I thought we did at one time. I’m not so sure anymore.

Let’s start with plain literacy on a personal and anecdotal level.

When my wife and I were looking for the house prior to our current house we noticed something odd, at least odd to us. We’d go in various houses in different parts of Los Angeles. But, unlike some of the shows on HGTV, you could still see the real people’s stuff in their houses. Their junk, ugly sofa, hideous drapes and kids’ toys strewn all over, laundry baskets, cluttered closets, etc. One thing we didn’t see much of were books. Sure, a house here or there had them, but the majority didn’t. And if they did they had a coffee table book or two of some artist they thought would make them look chic or intelligent or maybe a book of aerial views of L.A. One place we expected to see lots of books was in kids’ rooms or a potboiler on their parents’ nightstands. But, alas, the “cupboards” were bare.
This was twenty or so years ago, so well before smart phones, Kindles and e-readers. So, it’s not like all their multitudinous libraries were in e-form. No, there just weren’t many books to be seen.
We found this odd, as we have books stuffed to the rafters, as do most of our friends. Here, there and everywhere, in the living room or the dining room, library, the hallway, and even shelves upon shelves in the garage.

Flash forward: Cultural Literacy

29291When we went hunting for our current house, about ten years ago it was more of the same. By then there might have been some e-books and the like but the real revolution still hadn’t hit full bore yet.

Again this seemed odd. But more than odd, it’s scary. Especially for a writer. Because a writer needs readers. And if people aren’t reading, I’m out of a job, and maybe likely so are you. Even scarier though is the fact that, imho, we are becoming a post-literate society. And we are losing our shared background, some of which is gotten through books. Aside from the greater implications of that in terms of the country, it makes it harder as a writer because when we write we assume some shared cultural background. And we make literary or historical allusions to those ends. We mention composers or songs or symphonies. Books, authors, “famous” or “well-known” quotes that we assume most readers will be familiar with, some foreign phrases, even biblical references. Hemingway and even Bob Dylan songs (and I’m talking those from the 60s before he found religion in the 70s), as well as other writers, are filled with them. But often these days readers are not familiar with these references, so they miss the richness of the writing. So then we begin to question whether or not to include these references and sometimes end up writing to the lower common denominator. And that diminishes our works and our society, even if it sounds pompous to say that.

Maybe people won’t know who Rudy Vallee is, and that's understandable, but many also don’t know who Shakespeare is in any meaningful way.

743625500929_p0_v1_s600When I would go to pitch meetings in Hollywood I would often have to dumb down my presentation. I would try to leave out any historical or literary allusions. Hell, I’d even leave out film allusions because while these people may have heard of Hitchcock, few had seen his movies. And they were mostly from Ivy League type schools, but they didn’t have much of a cultural background. So when you have to explain basic things to them, you’ve lost them. They don’t like to feel stupid. And sometimes they’d ask me to explain something to them about another script they were reading by someone else. One development VP asked me to explain to her who fought on which sides in World War II, because she was reading a WWII script someone had submitted. The writer of that script already had points against him or her since the development VP didn’t even know the basics of the subject matter. And I would have thought before that incident that just about everybody knew who fought on which side in WWII. And this is just one example. I have many, many more experiences like this.

After college, the stats show that many people never—or very rarely—read another book. Literacy rates in the US are down. A lot of young people aren’t reading, but they think they’re smart because they look things up on Google. But looking something up on Google isn’t the same as knowing, though it’s better than nothing, assuming people do look things up. See: http://www.salon.com/2014/10/12/google_makes_us_all_dumber_the_neuroscience_of_search_engines/
Hw-shakespeare2
I’ve seen several authors, some very well known, ask on Facebook if they should include X, Y or Z in a novel because their editor says no one will get the references, even though the references aren’t that obscure. But even if they are, what’s wrong with using them and having people (hopefully) look them up. Isn’t that how we expand our knowledge? But nobody wants to challenge anyone in that way anymore. We’re dealing with generations now that have been told how wonderful they are without having earned it. So when we unintentionally make them feel stupid by using references they’re not familiar with, they turn off. Is it just me or does our society seem to have no intellectual curiosity, no interests or hobbies other than texting or watching the Kardashians? They don’t have the will to look further than the screens of their smart phones?

I know I’m generalizing and that there are pockets of intellectual curiosity (like the readers of this blog!), but I feel like we are becoming a minority.

And when you do a book signing or a library event, do you notice the average median age and hair color of the audience? More times than not they’re older and grayer. And where are the young people? That’s scary.

I wish more people would make New Year’s resolutions to improve their minds as well as their bodies, to exercise their brains as well as their muscles. So maybe we should do yoga for the brain as well as the body.

At this point I’d even settle for grownups reading comic books or graphic novels as long as there’s words in them.

All of this scares me, not just as a writer, who might not have an audience in the future. But for society as a whole. We need to have a shared background, a common knowledge, a literate society of people who are engaged. Not everybody can know everything, of course. But there should be some common background that we can all relate to.



Shakespeare picture: Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hw-shakespeare2.jpg#/media/File:Hw-shakespeare2.jpg
Blonde on blonde album cover: "Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bob_Dylan_-_Blonde_on_Blonde.jpg#/media/File:Bob_Dylan_-_Blonde_on_Blonde.jpg