The Cmicro is a temperature sensor that makes microwaving more complicated

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A new Indiegogo campaign has appeared to help you monitor your food’s temperature when you microwave it. Called Cmicro, the device consists of a little puck (the actual sensor), a number of different Cmicro container covers it can be attached to, and a small display that’s affixed to the front of your microwave.

The Cmicro system works by putting the sensor on the desired cover — there’s a dome to put over plates, another for cups, and a Cmicro baby bottle with a lid — placing the covered food in the microwave, and then setting the front sensor to the temperature you’d like your food. As it cooks, the sensor measures the average temperature of the food via an infrared signal powered by the microwave, which is transmitted to and shown on…

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AI Weekly: Virtual assistant competition is more complicated than you think

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We’re nearing the end of the beginning for the battle among virtual assistants in the U.S. With the launch of the HomePod, Apple joins Google, Amazon, and Microsoft in having a smart speaker available at all times to answer queries and perform actions. But the market for intelligent virtual assistants is far more complex than just determining who has the best hardware and software.

All of the market players hold specific advantages that their competitors don’t, and they’re each racing to build up their positions. Amazon leads penetration in the smart speaker market, but Alexa’s mobile presence is minimal. Siri’s software lags behind its competition, but Apple has the corner on embedded virtual assistants in its hardware. Google has the planet’s most popular search engine, which drives the assistant’s ability to answer questions better than its peers.

Understanding the different facets of defensibility at play is important for getting a sense of where the virtual assistant market is today and where it’s going in the future.

The winners in the virtual assistant market will control a significant portal for access to information. As the search engine, browser, and mobile markets have shown, owning the platform for people to access information is a massive source of power.

But nobody has the market locked down yet, even as dominant as some players may appear. Right now, no one company has managed to create the ideal assistant: one that has a deep understanding of you, is deeply integrated everywhere you are, and can answer almost any question you might have.

Above: The new Amazon Echo

Image Credit: Amazon

That open competitive landscape is why companies are looking to build the defensibility of their virtual assistants. I’ve identified three axes for that competition: technology development, network effects, and embedding effects.

Technology development is arguably the easiest to identify: Each player is consistently improving the core AI functionality that makes their assistant tick by helping it better understand speech and translate that into action. The same thing goes for hardware — advancements in microphones and speaker technology, along with the processing power needed to answer queries rapidly, add up to a better experience that attracts consumers.

But this isn’t a world where the best technology wins. If it was, we’d all be using Google Wave, may it rest in peace. This is where network effects come into play. There’s a direct network effect at play with devices that integrate with one virtual assistant. The more Apple devices you have, the more valuable Siri is, because it’s closer to being present everywhere you are.

Each virtual assistant is also its own platform, which is more valuable to developers based on user adoption. Conversely, each platform becomes more valuable to consumers the more high-quality developer integrations are available. This is a key advantage for Alexa in the current market.

Integration with smart home appliances is another platform network effect. The more popular a particular virtual assistant is, the more likely companies are to build hardware that integrates with it. The more companies integrate with a virtual assistant, the more valuable it is to consumers.

Data provides its own network effects, too. The more data a company has to learn from, the more it can personalize your assistant. As you provide more data, the more valuable the initial data becomes. This is why Facebook could end up being a dark horse in the virtual assistant race — none of its potential competitors has an equivalent to its social graph data.

Above: An illustration shows Kohler’s new Verdera Alexa-enabled mirror.

Image Credit: Kohler

Embedding effects are exactly what they sound like: These assistants become embedded with your life and workflows, which make it harder to switch to a competitor. That’s why Alexa’s smart home leadership is so valuable to Amazon: If your smart fridge only works with its virtual assistant, you’re stuck in a very shiny Hotel California.

Even choosing to purchase a particular smart speaker has an embedding effect. It’s quite the decision to toss a $ 350 HomePod to the curb for a competing platform, and harder still to consign multiple to the trash heap. Google and Amazon’s budget-friendly smart speakers don’t have nearly as strong an embedding effect — unplugging a single $ 50 intelligent hockey puck is a less daunting proposition.

Above: Google Assistant on a Pixel smartphone

Image Credit: Google

The same goes for other computing hardware, too. Google and Apple have significant advantages because of their assistants’ native integration with Android and iOS. (Plus Chrome OS and MacOS, to a lesser extent.) That’s one reason Cortana isn’t already an also-ran in the market: It’s integrated into every PC and Xbox, which are already embedded in homes and offices.

What’s more, advancements along all these axes feed back into one another. The companies that can best harness all of them will come out on top. But that’s going to take years to shake out, and there are a bunch of complexities at play that make it difficult to declare anyone a winner yet.

Stay tuned to VentureBeat’s AI channel for analysis of each major player in the virtual assistant game along these lines.

For AI coverage, send news tips to Blair Hanley Frank and Khari Johnson, and guest post submissions to Cosette Jarrett — and be sure to bookmark our AI Channel.

Thanks for reading,

Blair Hanley Frank

AI Staff Writer

P.S. Please enjoy this panel discussion about artificial intelligence and open source software from this past week’s Open Source Leadership Summit.


Siri cofounder suggests Apple’s ambition and execution caused disappointment

Apple’s release of its HomePod smart speaker and Amazon’s success with its rival Echo products recently reignited discussion over flaws in the digital assistant Siri, and one of Siri’s cofounders has explained why the feature is so disappointing. In an interview with Quartz, Norman Winarsky suggests that Apple may have given Siri an overly ambitious collection of […]

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Here’s what top investors are asking about AI

Last week I attended the KeyBanc Capital Markets Emerging Technology Summit. As a participant in their Mosaic industry leaders program, my role at the conference was to participate in one-on-one and group meetings with their institutional investor clients as a subject matter expert on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Having spent a couple of packed […]

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Microsoft to accelerate AI on Windows 10 with WinML API

Microsoft announced a new set of tools for developers aimed at helping them build Windows apps that leverage hardware acceleration for AI. The WinML API will take in a trained machine learning model and optimize its execution based on the hardware available on host devices. That way, developers can rely on local processing for their […]

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Voicera raises $ 14.5 million for AI that draws insights from meeting notes

Voicera, whose AI assistant Eva creates transcripts from voice recordings of meetings, today announced the closure of a $ 14.5 million funding round, which includes backing from a few tech giants with plans to put their own assistants in the workplace. Formerly Workfit, Voicera uses natural language processing and speech recognition to make transcripts and spot task […]

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Tim O’Reilly to tech companies: Use AI to do more than cut costs

Tim O’Reilly is known for popularizing tech industry buzzwords like “open source” and “Web 2.0.” Now he wants the tech industry to be more precise in the way it thinks and talks about artificial intelligence and automation. “Don’t replace people: Augment them,” O’Reilly said onstage at VentureBeat’s Blueprint conference in Reno, Nevada. To be fair, […]

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Walmart plans to open a computer vision and machine learning office in Dallas on April 5

Retail giant Walmart now thinks of itself as a tech company — but it’s not putting all its eggs in Silicon Valley. The company announced today that it is opening an emerging technologies office in Dallas, Texas. Thirteen employees have already been hired at the office, and the company expects to hire roughly 32 more […]

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SkyKnit: How an AI took over an adult knitting community

Ribald knitters teamed up with a neural-network creator to generate new types of tentacled, cozy shapes. (via The Atlantic)

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Google is helping the Pentagon build AI for drones

Google has partnered with the United States Department of Defense to help the agency develop artificial intelligence for analyzing drone footage, a move that set off a firestorm among employees of the technology giant when they learned of Google’s involvement. (via Gizmodo)

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Rage against the machine: Self-driving cars attacked by angry Californians

Something strange, scary and sublime is happening to cameras, and it’s going to complicate everything you knew about pictures. Cameras are getting brains. (via The Guardian)

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Getting value from machine learning isn’t about fancier algorithms — it’s about making it easier to use

Machine learning can drive tangible business value for a wide range of industries — but only if it is actually put to use. Despite the many machine learning discoveries being made by academics, new research papers showing what is possible, and an increasing amount of data available, companies are struggling to deploy machine learning to solve real business problems. In short, the gap for most companies isn’t that machine learning doesn’t work, but that they struggle to actually use it. (via Harvard Business Review)

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Is HomePod love at first listen? It’s complicated.

High-quality audio is the signature feature of Apple’s new HomePod. Apple execs brush off “Siri so stupid” concerns by emphasizing the sound quality of the device. So the big question is: Will the HomePod be love at first listen? I just unwrapped one of the new Apple smart speakers, and my ears now have a […]

(via Cult of Mac – Tech and culture through an Apple lens)

Cult of Mac

Everything is too complicated

It’s the very beginning of CES 2018, and the first trickles of gadget news are starting to come out — the flood begins tomorrow as the show floor opens and keynotes and press conferences begin in earnest. It’s easy to see the broad themes of the show and the tech industry at large already forming: smart assistants everywhere, sensors and radios in every device you can think of, and an eternal hope that something, anything, will be the reason people will finally upgrade their TVs.

All of that is exciting — I love gadgets and am one of the few crazy people that think CES is incredibly fun! — but I want to take a half-step back before it all begins and point out something obvious: most people have no idea how any of these things work, and…

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Alexa will soon operate your very complicated microwave for you

The more capable a microwave oven is, the harder it is to figure out what buttons to press to make it do the thing you want. Or so I’ve heard. Today, Amazon announced that it will save us all from furiously button-mashing just heat up some leftovers by adding cooking capabilities to its Smart Home Skill API and working with appliance manufacturers to add its Alexa assistant to cloud-connected microwave ovens.

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Alexa will soon operate your very complicated microwave for you was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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The airport of the future will have extremely complicated lines

For the past few years, governments have been gradually remaking the airport, transforming the single security check into a system of tiered clearances and background checks. You can see this logic at work in programs like CBP’s Global Entry and TSA’s Pre-Check, which let you pass through security lines faster if you’ve gone through the pre-clearance system in advance.

Facial recognition is shaping up to be a big part of the system too, as the cameras and databases put in place for biometric exit start to extend to US citizens at TSA checkpoints. That would let airport security quietly separate both low-risk passengers (if you’re in Global Entry) and high-risk passengers (if your face is on a watchlist) from the main group. If it works,…

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Iphone: It Is Not As Complicated As It Looks

It is quite simple to learn of all the features on your iPhone, including social media. Many people still haven’t figured out how to accomplish this for some reason. If you don’t know how to set your phone to link with your favorite social accounts, you will find what you need to know in the article below.

Rotate your iphone horizontally before activating the keyboard. Doing this will increase the size of the keyboard, making it easier to type. This is especially helpful if you have trouble seeing the small screen or have very large fingers. This can save you time and frustration with misspelled words or errors in auto-correct.

Among its many terrific uses the iPhone’s tremendous ability to help you learn foreign languages. By downloading applications that offer vocabulary instruction as well as translation assistance in a large number of tongues, you can set yourself on the path to becoming a true citizen of the world.

Take advantage of the weather function on the iPhone to get a grasp of the forecast for the next week. This function allows you to select the specific town that you live in along with other areas that can help you get a better idea of weather in a particular area.

Don’t panic if your iphone gets wet. Phones sometimes slip out of pockets and into puddles or sinks. If this happens to you, don’t use a blow dryer to try to dry your phone off as quickly as possible. This could force moisture deeper into the phone. Instead, try leaving your phone in a bag of uncooked rice overnight.

When you have an incoming call on your iPhone, you can silence your ring with a single button. By pressing the Sleep/Wake button one time, the ring will go to silent mode. If you wish to send the caller straight to your voice mail, you can press that button two times.

You can turn your favorite website in an app. Open the website on your phone’s browser. Once you get on the website, tap once on the “Go” option. This then gives you the option for adding this site to the home screen. When you see it on the home page, you are able to rename it. Then, you have an app!

If you’re worried about losing your iPhone, sign up for the free Find My iPhone service. This will allow you to use the phone’s GPS to locate where the phone is. You can then either make it ring (so that you can find it if it’s near you), or you can lock and wipe the phone’s data if it’s been stolen.

If you work or go to school, make sure that your iPhone is set to vibrate to reduce the chances that you will cause a disruption. You can do this by going into the settings in the sound’s section and turn to vibrate from on to off on your iPhone for a practical way to receive messages or calls.

There is a way you can take pictures faster instead of going through your apps. Double-tap on the Home button, and the camera icon will be available for you to tap. This even works if have your iPhone locked. Once you do this, use the volume up button to take the picture.

A new feature the iPhone has that many people do not know about is its built-in dictionary. This can even be used as you are writing an email or text message. If there is a word that you are unsure about, just tap on it and you will see “define” pop up–tap on it!

Is iPhone screen flipping driving you nuts? Stop the screen from moving by locking the orientation of the screen. You can do this by sliding the iPhone app bar once to the right. There on the left-hand side is a lock button for your screen orientation. One click of that button and your screen will lock in whatever format it is currently in.

If you are not happy with the current settings of your iPhone, you can reset everything to the default settings that your phone came with in the first place. This can be found under the general section under settings, and will help you to start fresh if you did something that you did not want.

You can do nearly everything that you can do on your home computer due to the Safari browser that iPhone uses. If you see pictures you would like to store while browsing the Internet, simply tap it and hold it down. A menu will appear asking if you’d like to save the picture to the Camera Roll. You can then put it in a message if you want.

Your iPhone has the ability to take a picture without you having to worry about shaking it. You can do this with your headphones by pushing the volume button. Make your hand as steady as possible before you take your photo. When you want to take a picture, just push a button on the cord.

Go to your camera quickly when your phone is locked. A good photo opportunity can come and go in the breadth of a heartbeat. To avoid missing out on such an opportunity, just give your iphone’s home button two quick taps. This should immediately bring up your camera or the icon for it.

Check your bank and see if there is an application you can use through your phone. Your bank should have a free application you can use to monitor all of the transactions you make on a daily basis. This is a good way to make sure that there is nothing fishy with bank accounts.

Set up your social networking accounts on your phone and explore all the different features available. Apply the tips from this article to help stay connected to friends and loved ones. iPhones and social media has made this all possible, which is why iPhones are a must-have item.