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The new Amazon Echo is straight out of Y2K

(TECHNOLOGY) Amazon’s latest version of the Echo boasts a new feature that is sure t bring up flashbacks to the early 2000s.

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New old tech

The future! Eternal, shiny and chrome. We all know what it will look like, right? A little bit of immersive VR, a splash of zero UI, maybe a tiny bit of artificially intelligent robot conquest.

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And… this thing, apparently.

Echo

That there is a recently leaked new look for Amazon’s Echo, and it may just be the future home of Alexa, the House Bezos entry in the apparently mandatory Charming If Subtly Creepy Female Sounding Virtual Assistant Contest, alongside Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s… Google Assistant.

Google is not so much with the naming of things other than Google. Except Alphabet, I suppose.

As linked, ink has already been spilled over the seriously retro form factor of the screen-enabled Echo, but… seriously, that is a retro form factor. I mean, integral speaker? I’m pretty sure I saw Ally McBeal answer a phone call on one of those, no doubt in a charmingly flustered fashion.

I’m going to swim against the already-forming current, however: I like it.

Obviously I’m 90s enough to make Ally McBeal references and use all the letters in the word “obviously,” but my fondness for the device goes beyond the fact that modern world frightens and angers me.

Remember setting up Bluetooth for the first time? Or a wireless peripheral? Because I’ll bet a shiny quarter a fair number of y’all had to use a wired device in the process.

I know I did.

That’s the unavoidable curse of new interfaces and connection protocols: if they don’t work, by definition you can’t ask them what their problem is, because you need it to work before you can ask.

Looming over the otherwise utterly welcome shift to voice-controlled zero UI is the prospect of the most severe case of Can’t Talk To The Thing ever. This time, if the cheerful Dalek of your choice turns blue and falls over – and it is a universal truth that everything, everything eventually turns blue and falls over, it’s the Tao of Tech – you literally won’t be able to talk to it.

It’ll be straight up “I can’t do that, Dave,” and nobody wants HAL in their house, even if he’s just queueing up Netflix reruns.

What about redundancy?

By all appearances, this is a touchscreen interface stuffed in a very large, very grey box. Touching Alexa might be a plus (that sounded less creepy in my head) but how is that functionality not duplicated by your phone?

My thing with that is… ever lose your phone?

The whole point of zero UI is that it runs everything. Techie types have been saying for decades that personal tech is eventually going to come down to two things, the thing you have in your house and the thing you carry around. Make the one depend on the other and the next time you leave your phone on the bus, when you get home, your house won’t work. Undesirable.

But look at this guy

It really, obviously isn’t going anywhere. It’s a beast. You’d need worshippers with ropes and a bunch of log rollers. It’s gonna hang in your house, shining the time, hanging on to your IMs and absolutely, positively guaranteeing you can talk to all the tech that runs your life.

It might just be, in this one case, the way forward is taking a step back.

#Echo

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Real Estate Technology

Transcribe your flood of meetings with Tony

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) With all the audio meetings that have to take place now it might be useful to get a transcriber, TonydoorAI is a free one that’s perfect for you.

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Tony doorAI TonydoorAI

While meetings sometimes (rightfully) get a bad rep for being a waste of time, there are often moments where meetings are crucial for the betterment of your work. And, in these cases, meetings can be particularly daunting.

You’re worried about how to dress, what to say, and how to say it, all while retaining the information presented and taking helpful notes for your future self. It’s impossible to do all of that at the same time and feel like you hit it out of the park.

Even with our current world of video meetings from home, it can still be hard to manage all of those components and take detailed notes that will make sense in the future. However, there may be a friend who can help.

TonyDoorAI is an AI assistant for calls and video meetings. Users can turn it on to record meetings on Zoom or Google Meet.

The AI can transcribe in 120 languages and can summarize in two minutes with 95 percent accuracy. This is a largely untapped system of record that is designed with remote teams in mind.

The system also provides time-stamped notes and works to keep the communication between customers or employees smooth and transparent. TonyDoor has strong analytic skills built into the platform that track a conversation’s theme and structure – in only one hour, the system will review an hour-long meeting into your CRM.

There are plans tailored for all business types, including a free plan that offers four hours of transcription per month, records Zoom and Google Meet, provides time-stamped notes, and integrates with Slack and Calendar.

On the website, Tony states that only the user owns the data and that they do not sell or use data for their interests. Additionally, Tony explains the encryption of data as, “We encrypt your data at rest, including emails, calendar events and other personal identifiable metadata. We use a 256-bit AES encryption in storage and a 256-bit SSL/TLS encryption in transit. Our database is hosted in a Virtual Private Cloud with AWS.”

Tony sounds like an ideal helper for new client calls, interviews, and anything where you want to retain information. Give us your thoughts on AI transcription in the comments!

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Real Estate Technology

Toronto neighborhood of the future gets canceled, thanks COVID-19

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Google partner company cancels technological utopia project in Toronto, Ontario, amid pandemic financial uncertainty. Damn you COVID-19!

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toronto quayside

Sidewalk Labs has announced the termination of a new-age urban paradise to be built in the world’s societal paradise due to the pandemic-induced apocalypse: the new-and-improved Quayside, Canada will not be.

The project was a 12-acre technological utopian neighborhood on the Toronto eastern waterfront. Sidewalk Toronto would combine “forward-thinking urban design and new digital technology to create people-centred neighbourhoods that achieve precedent-setting levels of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity.”

The project was a collaborative effort between Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation company owned by Alphabet (the parent company of Google) and Waterfront Toronto, the local nonprofit steward of the area. Launched in October 2017, Sidewalk Labs committed to a $50 million USD investment for initial planning and testing.

According to the announcement by Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel Doctoroff, the work completed to date on Quayside “represent[s] a meaningful contribution to the work of tackling big urban problems, particularly in the areas of affordability and sustainability. This is a vital societal endeavor, and Sidewalk Labs will continue our work to contribute to it.”

Sidewalk Labs has made many a grandiose proclamation for the contributions of this project to inspire new models for sustainable transportation, waste management, and affordable housing. But the execution of this vision has not been without controversy. The project has been criticized over the years by Toronto residents for its dubious regard to privacy standards and personal data collection, such as motion-sensor cameras to track people’s movements and manage transportation accordingly. At one point, Sidewalk Labs proposed to expand the project to a 350-acre plot of undeveloped land.

Despite Sidewalk Labs emphasis on the importance of the project and its significance in the context of the social and physical shifts the world has made to adapt to COVID-19, the announcement gave no indication that the project will be reinitiated at a later time.

For now, the announcement only indicates that Sidewalk Labs will continue other internal projects and external investments. Some of Sidewalk Labs other projects include Proto-Model X (PMX), a digital model for manufacturing tall timber buildings, and a Clean Recycling pilot to help apartment habitants improve waste and recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs also invests in other companies working on the front lines of urban innovation.

While the world may be no worse for the wear without a heated-sidewalk Zion, the project cancellation is definitely a disappointment. I was really looking forward to moving to Google Town after coronavirus decimates my local population and economy.

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Real Estate Technology

Google Duo expands to support 32-people calls to compete in new Zoom world

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Google Duo is expanding to include 32 people on a call to compete with WhatsApp. Zoom had better watch out, here is another competitor coming up.

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Google Duo

Google Duo is expanding and at it couldn’t come at a better time for the renaissance of video calling. While social distancing is keeping us away from friends and loved ones, messaging services are keeping connections alive and remote working viable. Google Duo is making plans to expand group calls to accommodate 32 people, becoming a stronger competitor with Zoom and Google Meet.

Duo is catered towards families and friends through its features like doodles, masks, and the recently-launched Family Mode. Thanks to Google’s popularity with contacts and gmail accounts, it’s betting users will find convenience in the platform fluidity.

Well, WhatsApp didn’t take this challenge laying down. The app announced its moving towards support video calls with up to 50 people. The feature (currently in beta version in the desktop app), functions by transferring users into new Facebook Messenger Rooms. As of this publication, the WhatsApp mobile version only supports 8 users per call. Since it was purchased by Facebook, WhatsApp, combined with Messenger, could rise to become a widely utilized video call platform.

What’s a little confusing is why Google has 3 separate video conferencing tools at all. Google Hangouts, Google Meet, and Google Duo. Why is Google competing with itself? Surely they are splitting users between the 3 instead of backing 1 to take the top spot from Zoom. Which hand isn’t talking to a 3rd foot?

While more seems like a good idea, we’re all figuring out that there’s a critical threshold where online video call devolve into a garbled mess where people can’t get a word in or progress the conversation in a meaningful manner. Every company seems to be trying take away Zooms domination of the market by being able to add more people to a call, but why not better compression, more security, ease of use, better UI. These are the features we demand out of other programs, but I have only heard complaints, but seen no solutions.

In the meantime, we as consumers will have plenty of options to continue navigating communication and workflow in a COVID-19 world and beyond.

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