‘Alexa, what’s in the news?’ | Mingis on Tech

welcome back to Mingis on tech it’s
January 25th 2017 I’m executive news editor Ken Mingus I’m here with chair
and Mac let’s executive editor for data analytics and online and a special guest
our latest staff edition Alexa Alexa who are you I’m Alexa and I’m designed
around your voice you can ask me to play music answer questions get the weather
and sports scores create to-do lists and much more all right excellent now let me
explain why we have Alexa here and in fact let me let Sharon explain what we
have Alexa here because Alexa can do a lot of things and Sharon over the last a
month or so I guess that has been sort of doing some coding
and has figured out how to get Computerworld news on Alexa so that
anyone with an echo or an echo dot can find out what’s going on in technology
so Sharon how did this happen how did we get Alex on staff
we got Alex on staff because my husband got an Amazon echo for his birthday and
I thought it was just kind of a curiosity as a lot of people did but we
found it was it was quantitatively different – to interact with something
totally by voice I figured it would be like Siri or like they do Google asking
Google questions but somehow eliminating that part where you actually have to
press something or do something and just speaking to it makes it feel much more
natural and it’s actually quite a different experience and then I wanted
to see what else we could do with it so one of the things that Alexa will do is
give you the news and it comes with certain skips what it call skills new
sources Computerworld was not a new source and I wanted to make it one so we
do now have a computer world skill for the flash briefing so you can ask it for
the top technology news from computer world and I did actually write a piece
on how you can customize your own flash briefing with skills that are not
available in the skill store and basically the hardest part of that is
finding an RSS feed in the right format unfortunately the public computer world
RSS feeds are not in the right format because they’ve got some HTML in the
description so I had a strip that yeah it is interesting to you know to go back
to the the first thing you said that one of the things it seems to be setting
Alexa apart from Siri and and maybe this is true of Google home too is the fact
that you don’t have to interact anything except just use your voice Alexa will
respond to any voice and it has this technology that can I guess it’s beam
formed technology or something that finds whatever wherever you are in the
room and can and can show you it indicates with the indicator ring that
it’s heard you and I’d also I saw some story recently that said that people are
more likely to be or more comfortable talking out loud at home you know rather
than going down the street I’ve seen people who pick up their phone and say
Siri tell me something and it always looks kind of weird you know
um so well let’s let’s let’s let Siri I mean sirico let’s let Alexa tell us what
our news briefing sounds like so this is what if you signed up for the computer
world flash briefing on tech news is what you’d get Alexa what’s in the news
day here’s your flash briefing in chopped tech news from computer world
applications bugs in iOS MCOs and Safari Apple on Monday updated Metro Sierra 210
12.3 patching eleven security vulnerabilities in the desktop OS and
released iOS 10.2 one an update to fix 18 security flaws in the mobile OS
trumped apps net neutrality flow Ajit PI to lead the FCC President Donald Trump
has named Commissioner Ajit PI an outspoken opponent of the FCC’s net
neutrality rules as the next head of the agency
Trump’s federal hiring freeze government IT stop reading the news here’s your
Flash briefing no Alexa stop obviously technology that’s a little ways to go
but now I mean that you get the idea that that’s the sort of thing that you
can do with with these flash briefings right yeah and I should be clear when I
said Google I meant the Android phone I’m not Google home which is which is
much more like this and in fact I’m planning on buying one of those to see
what it didn’t go home are you we are all in on this now at home my
husband and I we’ve gotten multiple devices of these around the house we’ve
set it up with smart switches so now it can turn lights on and off by voice it
can turn a couple of our televisions on and off by voice and now I’m starting to
learn how to code my own skills for it in addition to news briefing skills so
I’ve got my phone directory on it and there are lots of more things you can do
if you know either nodejs and JavaScript or Python are the two languages that’s
that seemed to be the major platforms for this and the way to do that you have
to sign up with a developer account on Amazon right you sign up with the
developer account is free you can host it on your own server but it is a lot
easier to host on Amazon Web Services obviously but meanwhile the the free the
free tier seems to be unless you’re doing something that’s really going to
be used by a lot of people the free tier I think is plenty for if you just want
to start fooling over fooling around with it for your own skills for the
people who are doing it for their companies they’re gonna wanna obviously
pay for something a little more robust right it’s interesting that there’s a
whole ecosystem that seems to be evolving around this a little earlier
this month I was talking to Keith Shaw who was at CES and even though Amazon
did not have a specific presence there for Alexa he said you couldn’t go you
know from every booth you went to almost seemed to have some sort of Alexa
connection I mean even Ford’s talking about putting Alexa and it’s cars and
there seems to be this whole ecosystem around the home that’s that that’s
growing in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen happen around certainly around
Apple and Siri or even maybe Google home yeah I mean you’ve got all the things
you can go on Amazon or wherever now and find light bulbs and switches that
automatically will work with Alexa with just minimal setup right and yet what
you’ve been doing yeah I Google home I the Google assistant rather will do some
smart home things but the Amazon ecosystem is is way ahead in terms of
the amount of things that will support Amazon has also been pretty robust about
welcoming third parties and opening up the platform for a lot of development so
I think there are somewhat ahead on as well it’s also interesting too and
this this won’t come as a surprise to anybody that’s ever bought anything from
Amazon but the ability to buy things using alexa is one of the things that’s
built in and of course I think it’s turned on by default and if you don’t
want to be buying things accidentally you have to turn it off there’s an app
that you use basically on your smartphone or even on that you can go to
a desktop site and you can configure the kinds of things that you do with Alexa
yes if you have kids at home I would definitely did you hear the story about
the it may be an apocryphal story and I have to tell this again because I think
it’s so funny but the story of the the young girl in Texas who was talking to
her Alexa and said something like I want a dollhouse and suddenly three days
later a dollhouse shows up on the doorstep from Amazon along with four
cookies and when a TV station was doing a story
about this the reporter said Alexa I want a dollhouse and suddenly Alexa’s
all around the viewing area we’re ready to order to all houses so you might want
to turn that off if you’ve got kids or if you don’t want to inadvertently order
things from from Amazon but you know again technology is just rolling out
well they’ll figure out how to do this and of course there is a mute button and
it’s very important to note that I have hit the mute button otherwise every time
we said Alexa it would be beeping and asking us what we want to know speaking
of let me ask Alexa Alexa who’s gonna win the Super Bowl I can’t see it the
future rats darn okay well I guess we’ll have
to wait and plus to place our bets elsewhere let me try one more thing
Alexa open the pod bay doors I’m sorry Dave I’m afraid I can’t do that
I’m not howling we’re not in space well at least Alexa has a sense of humor
Alexa does have a sense of humor and and in fact it’s quote-unquote personality
is one of the things that that people are finding somewhat amusing and attract
you can ask jokes it’ll tell you jokes you can play music
with it you can do all kinds of things or the beyond just getting news or like
running yours more at home it’s just kind of fun yeah and I have to say
everyone we’ve shown this to in a house the the friend who who got this for my
husband for his birthday just thought it was kind of an amusing toy he’s an IT
manager when he came over several months later to see how we set it up with the
with this smart house and the lights and everything next thing we know bye-bye
two days later he had bought his own he had bought a nest thermostat and a
security camera this gonna get very expensive very quickly it’s just it
seems to be a fairly compelling experience that now that said the
artificial intelligence sort of understanding is still at a very
rudimentary level I mean for a lot of these skills especially the third party
skills you have to ask it exactly the question in exactly the right format
especially the third party stuff the other issue with the third party skills
that you can you can I mean there are hundreds if not thousands of these
skills you can add but each one you have to remember the name of the skill you
have to ask it so I’ve got a skill that’ll if I can ask it how long can I
keep fresh fruit and then refrigerate and it’ll say it but I have to remember
the skill name and the reason for that is because you’ve got all these third
parties doing their own development and you know you have to be sure that
they’re not asking the same questions and having different answers I mean you
have to make sure there’s some way to separate these out the the things that
are built into the Alexa environment instead of third party ones seem to
understand a little bit better but even so it’s very concrete when you ask the
hope is that that the artificial intelligence learning will evolve
because right now it’s pretty basic yeah which is understandable I know that
one of the things that’s available in the app is you can train it which will
help it understand the way you say different words or commands but if you
ask something that it doesn’t understand it comes very comes
quickly I don’t understand what you mean or so it gives you a chance to prompt to
prompt it again that’s that okay well so that’s our look at Alexa it’s a quick
little look but if you want to get computer world’s flash briefing we’re
now available you can get daily updates on tech news thanks to Sharon Thank You
Sharon starts for computer world it’s a scale and your flash briefings and let’s
have a LexA take us out with some music Alexa play Buena Vista Social Club that
like Buena Vista Alexa play Buena Vista Social Club shuffling songs by Buena
Vista Social Club and that’s a wrap

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