Good morning, CIOs. Digital assistants in recent weeks took an odd–or as Black Mirror fans would say, ‘predicted’—turn with reports of Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa devices breaking out into bouts of unprompted laughter. A fix is underway. But the episode raises questions on our relationship with a technology which very well might be laughing at us.
If anything, the relationship is deepening. Capgemini estimates that in three years an 40% of consumers will choose voice assistants over a company’s website or mobile app. To get a sense of what comes next, CIO Journal’s Sara Castellanos talked with Bill Mark, president of SRI International’s Information and Computing Sciences division, and a contributor to the research effort that would become Siri, Apple Inc.’s voice-activated digital assistant. Highlights from the conversation follow.
Computational spaces. “In the old Star Trek series people stare off into space and say ‘Hey computer.’ What is it? They’re addressing something – a ship? I think we have to figure out what people are comfortable with… Maybe when you walk into a kitchen, the kitchen knows you’re there, and maybe because of something you said or the expression on your face, it knows whether you’re in a good or bad mood.”
The digital assistant who really, really knows you. “We’re working on not only understanding the ‘user state’ of a person from the way they’re talking, but also using the intonation, pauses and prosody of the speech. Sometimes it’s called the music of the speech. We’re trying to understand, possibly, emotion and also things like tiredness and depression, and extend that to respiratory problems.”
- Chinese President Xi Jinping offers a toast during the welcoming banquet for the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 14, 2017.
- DAMIR SAGOLJ/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
In China’s tech world, cheerleading from the government comes with a lot of benefits—and a lot of money. But Beijing also wants more control and the nation’s internet billionaires can’t exactly say no, the Journal’s Li Yuan reports. Jack Ma, executive chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., characterizes his relationship with the Chinese government as “fall in love but don’t marry.”
Amazon threatens Apple for top spot. According to Reuters, Apple Inc.’s $893 billion market capitalization is just (!) $141 billion more than Amazon.com Inc.‘s $752 billion value. With Amazon.com’s stock surging 83% over the past year, it may be the first company to hit the $1 trillion mark, says Reuters.
You’ll never believe it! Fakes news spreads faster than real news across social networks and humans, not bots, are to blame, according to an MIT report published in Science Thursday. Why? One reason according to researchers, is that posts and tweets containing false information often are more novel and they elicit “different emotional reactions.”
Social media-inspired violence in Sri Lanka. The government has ordered internet providers and mobile networks to block Facebook Inc. services as the country contends with mob violence directed at its Muslim minority, the New York Times reports.
Speaking of fake news. As the president of the United States blocks users from his Twitter feed, a U.S. District Judge wonders if the action violates First Amendment free speech rights, Reuters reports. “Once it is a public forum, you can’t shut somebody up because you don’t like what they’re saying,” U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said at a hearing in Manhattan federal court.
Suspected North Korean hackers blitzed Turkish institutions. The March 2 and 3 attacks attempted to lure targets with faux links to a cryptocurrency platform, the WSJ’s Timothy W. Martin reports. No money was stolen.
NATO Supreme Commander: No coordination against Russia cyber threat. “I don’t believe there is an effective unification across the interagency, with the energy and the focus that we could attain,” U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday. Reuters has the story.
Do cellphones cause brain cancer? Many experts say it’s unlikely that talking on a cellphone is linked to brain tumors, but there have been just enough research over the years to keep the debate alive. The WSJ’s Ryan Knuston presents an FAQ on the latest findings.
Uber near deal to exit Southeast Asia. Uber Technologies Inc. is in advanced talks to turn over most of its Southeast Asia operations to local rival Grab Inc., ending a costly fight for market share in the fast-growing region. In exchange for its operations in the region, Uber will gain a roughly 30% stake in Grab, the WSJ reports.
WHAT YOUR CEO IS READING
- A ‘Marty’ miniature walking robot, manufactured by Robotical, stands on display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Feb. 27, 2018.
- Bloomberg News
Every week, CIO Journal offers a glimpse into the mind of the CEO, whose view of technology is shaped by stories in management journals, general interest magazines and, of course, in-flight publications.
The future of robotics is softer, squishier. MIT roboticist and AI expert Daniela Rus writes in FT Magazine that it’s getting easier to build robots, a process that “has traditionally been difficult, tedious and expensive.” Automation is entering the robot-building space, but not how one would expect. Her team at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is close to building robots that can be designed by “free-form sketching and fabricated to actually walk right out of a 3D printer.” Another robot-making innovation is the development of robots involving soft materials, an idea picked up from the animal kingdom. “Soft materials enable robots to be smaller, safer and sturdier than their rigid-bodied counterparts,” she writes.
Mid-tech for the Midwest. The Midwest is a hub for so-called mid-tech jobs, a designation for certain computer and mathematics jobs in which 30% or more of those employed don’t hold a four-year degree. Like blue-collar trades of the past, access to a mid-tech positions often come through “intense, focused training on the job or in vocational program,” Quartz’s Michael J. Coren writes. The Brookings Institution, together with Quartz, crunched the job numbers to reveal that a quarter of tech employment in Cincinnati, Detroit and St. Louis, fall into this category. The New York Times’s Kevin Roose joins Silicon Valley insiders on a tour of the Midwest where they encounter cheaper real estate, workspaces that meet minimal levels of hipness, less traffic and surprisingly good coffee. Has the exodus begun? Notes Mr. Roose: “Complaints about Silicon Valley insularity are as old as the Valley itself.”
Chickens, coops. Silicon Valley residents are disrupting chicken raising, paying $350 for heritage breeds, and spending tens of thousands on high-tech cages, according to the Washington Post’s Peter Holley. “Decisions about breed selection are resolved by using engineering matrices and spreadsheets that capture ‘YoY growth,’” Mr. Holley writes, and some practitioners talk about their birds “like software updates, referring to them as ‘Gen 1,’ ‘Gen 2,’ ‘Gen 3’ and so on.’” San Francisco is seeing the development of multistory coops… for people. The New York Times’s Nellie Bowles reports on how construction firms increasingly are catering to the up-and-coming professional–or teacher, or fire fighter or social worker–priced out of the market. Dorms for adults start at $1,400 a month. The Wi-Fi is excellent. The bathrooms? Down the hall.
EVERYTHING ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW
President Donald Trump has accepted an invitation to meet Kim Jong Un, the White House said, in what would be the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader. (WSJ)
President Donald Trump signed proclamations imposing steep tariffs on steel and aluminum but granting the administration flexibility on the levels and the ability to spare critical U.S. allies. (WSJ)
U.S. mortgage rates have hit their highest level since 2014, a new challenge for a housing market that has been central to the economic recovery but remains vulnerable to even modest headwinds. (WSJ)
The headline unemployment rate is trending near a two-decade low, but a broader measure that includes those too frustrated to look for work and those stuck in part-time jobs remains somewhat elevated. (WSJ)
The Morning Download is edited by Tom Loftus and cues up the most important news in business technology every weekday morning. You can get The Morning Download emailed to you each weekday morning by clicking http://wsj.com/TheMorningDownload.