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What to do when Google robots call and talk to you

(TECH) Google Duplex is an AI suite which can call businesses to schedule appointments and someday more – what should you do when the robots call you?

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In yet another instance of the machines winning, Google recently released a demo of Google Duplex — an automated calling suite — which showcased the software completing calls to schedule appointments on behalf of a user:

Duplex, which will soon be bundled into Google Assistant, sounds uncannily natural; when completing a phone call, the AI can handle and react to unclear instructions such as long pauses, deviations from the conversation’s topic, being placed on hold, and being asked to repeat itself. While the main two calls released by Google only show Duplex operating in two venues (a restaurant and a hair salon) Google plans to implement Duplex across multiple platforms eventually.

That means you may start getting calls from Google – we’ll get to that in a bit…

Having the conversation sound as natural as possible was a key point for Google. Since most conversations with AI assistants tend to feel jarring and forced — especially from the AI side — it was clearly important for Duplex to feel as inviting and human as possible. This is evident from Google’s inclusion of various hesitations (e.g., “um”) and variations in the language used by Duplex.

Timing is another critical component of Duplex’s mannerisms.

While many AI assistants have uniform timing between specific conversational segments (such as sentences), Duplex pauses almost intimately, and its reactions to new information sound realistic enough. Between Duplex’s timing and the “flawed” mannerisms mentioned above, the AI represents a tremendous step forward for the human-facing side of AI.

Keep in mind that the AI currently has some limitations regarding its conversational abilities; it seems that Google’s strategy was more based around fleshing out a few specific scenarios and expanding the AI’s conversational options within them than allowing the AI to run wild with limited conversational depth. Eventually, though, Duplex will most likely be much more capable than it is now.

For example, as of now, a Google Assistant user might feasibly ask Duplex to schedule a restaurant reservation or inquire about busy hours. However, future renditions of Duplex may comprise tasks such as scheduling a vehicle repair, ordering take-out, calling an Uber, and more. Like calling to set up a house showing, even though you already have a button for that on your site, can do it via email or app, and pay for a service to manage all of this (the consumer cares about their convenience, not yours).

So what happens when your phone rings and it’s a robot?!

For now, Google Duplex isn’t selling leads, they’re simply launching the beta test as a scheduler, which we all know will become more complex in the future. But let’s say someone tries this during beta test: “Hey Google, call Ron Thompson at Century 21 in Dallas and schedule a home tour for tomorrow at 2pm.”

What is Ron going to do when a robot calls and they don’t know who the client is, hasn’t prequalified them, doesn’t know where they want to take tours, and also doesn’t understand he’s talking to a robot? The call is going to fail and Ron isn’t going to get the lead.

Perhaps the client will move on to the next person, or perhaps they’ll understand that their request takes more human intelligence than a robot can provide.

But more importantly, how should you react when you get your first call from a robot? Just behave normally. Speak naturally and normally, and if you can help, do it, but if you can’t, make it clear why. The information won’t necessarily make it to the client, but calls are recorded and AI learns through these instances over time.

Don’t speak slowly as if you’re talking into a speech-to-text app, just speak normally and answer questions clearly for now. You may not set that appointment because it’s unsafe to do so without pre-qualifications, but you can set the appointment with the robot and immediately send prequal questions to the clients via text. That’s a win-win.

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Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Real Estate Technology

Hackers target associations – how to protect your brokerage, yourself

(TECHNOLOGY) Hackers are increasingly targeting associations, and while they set their own policies to protect themselves, here’s how to do the same for you and your company.

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It all seemed so routine. For officials of both the Henderson (TX) and Boulder Valley(CO) public school districts, the email that they received from an existing construction vendor asking them to update their automated payments to new bank information was nothing seemingly out of the ordinary.

Only when vendors began to inquire about the status of payments that the districts had sent did the districts come to realize that the routine change had made themselves the victims of a scam known as a BEC, or a Business Email Compromise.

In each case, the losses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars before being discovered. Henderson ISD lost approximately $610,000 to the hackers and Boulder Valley Public Schools lost approximately $870,000. The fiscal hit was accompanied by reviews of and changes to their operating procedures to ensure that such a loss wouldn’t happen again in the future.

While the districts tied their losses to public transparency, with information about the vendors and the scope of work that each was involved with available on their websites, government officials said that such schemes are typically quite sophisticated and ongoing long before any request for money, in order to establish a level of trust with their victims.

Secret Service Agent Bill Mack, speaking to the Tyler Morning Telegraph, noted that “[w]e’ve seen an uptick in the number of cases…Contact is often made long before the request for money. Criminals will use a compromised network to gather information about the target. Then, appearing to be a legitimate representative of the vendor, they will often request a simple change in account numbers.

With FBI estimates as to the annual cost of cybercrime reaching over $2 billion dollars annually, and those losses only partially recovered through either the efforts of law enforcement or insurance, it’s important to recognize the fact that as scammers and hackers expand beyond the tired trope of the 419/Nigerian Prince, they’re now targeting new avenues, such as governmental entities and private associations (perhaps even your local real estate board/association).

While professional associations have been the targets of hackers since at least 2010, according to Ed Schipul, they’re coming under increasing levels of attack.

As a professional member of an organization, we depend on their advice, counsel, and information about upcoming trends and events. We rely on the communication that we receive from them to be timely, accurate, and most importantly, not be harmful to us, professionally or personally.

Assuming that the associations themselves are taking steps to protect their cybersecurity, how do we, as members protect ourselves from hackers?

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has tips on staying safe from hackers in an ever-connected world:

• Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information.
• Only open emails that look like they are from people or organizations you know, and even then, be cautious if they look questionable.
• Be especially wary of emails or websites that have typos or other obvious mistakes.
• Verify the validity of a suspicious-looking email or a pop-up box before providing personal information.
• Don’t immediately open email attachments or click on links in unsolicited or suspicious-looking emails.
• Install good anti-virus software that periodically runs to search for and remove malware.
• Be diligent about using spam (junk mail) filters provided by your email provider.
• Don’t visit untrusted websites and don’t believe everything you read.
• Criminals might create fake websites and pop-ups with enticing messages intended to draw you in and download malware.

In the case of officials at the districts, one measure that was implemented in each is worth remembering in a click-and-send era; they promised to have their respective staffs pick up the phone and call the vendor when any type of banking information was requested, to verify the request before providing information.

When dealing with our associations, if we receive an email or other outreach that seems out of character for them, it’s a good reminder to call and ask them if they’d intended to send it out before we take electronic action.

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Real Estate Technology

Is that home security system illegally recording?

(TECH NEWS) Just because it’s your home, doesn’t mean much. Home security systems are subject to recording laws of nations and states – are you in compliance?

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I sleep a lot better at night knowing that my house is outfitted with a video security system. To be sure, it has never been easier to set up your own home security system. However, as Lifehacker recently pointed out, “if your cameras can record audio, depending on your state, you run afoul of wiretapping laws if you don’t have consent from people who visit your home.”

Product review site The Wirecutter posits that “setting up cameras to keep an eye on your home is perfectly fine. Recording, on the other hand, can introduce some legal complications. Especially if you’re recording audio in a state that requires dual consent.”

In fact, underscores Lifehacker, “Video and audio recordings have different legal guidelines and there are worlds of nuance to navigate.” For example, in the name of personal security, you are entitled to watch a live feed of your front door, but if you put a camera in your basement and recorded your guests (beats me what they would be doing down in the basement) you’d up in legal trouble – even if it’s technically on your property.

Remember, laws vary from state to state, so you’ll have to check your local laws for specifics, but it’s worth doing before you set up your security system.

Speaking of which, Brickhouse Security suggests thinking about what the reason is behind the installation of a video security system:

“For some homeowners, the main reason to install a hidden camera is to be able to identify a burglar in the event of a home break-in. For others, there is a security issue, restraining order or another circumstance that makes them feel unsafe in their own home.”

Another issue that BHS points out is the legality of installing covert cameras within the home, “While the specific laws pertaining to this issue can vary from state to state, it is widely accepted that filming within the home is completely legal. However, there are exceptions to this statement, and they include recording in places where people can reasonably expect to have privacy as well as recording audio, which is not such a clear-cut issue.”

Click here to read more about hidden camera laws.

Best rule of thumb say many security experts: When deciding whether a hidden camera is the right choice for you, be sure to give thought to the location, whether the room gives people a reasonable expectation of privacy, whether there is any audio recording involved and what the overall objective of the camera is.

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Real Estate Technology

Why graphene is about to take over the world, and techies are betting big on it

(TECHNOLOGY) The tech world is paying close attention to the strongest material around, and its path to production looks a lot like plastics (which were once innovative and cutting edge) – let’s discuss!

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Buzz around graphene has floated through the science and tech world for 15 years now, and its promises are revolutionary. Discovered in 2004, the material is predicted to be the semi-metal that makes science fiction a reality.

Graphene is an insanely strong material. It only has a thickness of 1 atom, making it 2-dimensional. Its carbon structure is easily found in everyday objects like a graphite pencil.

Not only can it stretch up to 25% of its length, it is also the hardest material known today.

A sheet of graphene one atom in thickness is able to hold up the weight of a soccer ball. A sheet with two atomic layers is impenetrable to diamond-tipped weapons. Graphene expands under cooler temperatures and shrinks when exposed to hotter temperatures, making it the only known material to have these qualities.

Another valuable quality is that it is a great electrical conduit. It carries electricity very efficiently and quickly which if turned into batteries, could extend the lifespan of our devices. Graphene could carry electrical currents in materials like clothing, inks, and could rid us of our need for lightbulbs. The one-atom structure can also filter smaller electrons, potentially advancing quantum physics research.

In 2018, a group of scientists in Australia used graphene to create a water filter that could desalinate ocean water and make even the most polluted water drinkable. If large enough membranes were made, it could even solve the fresh water crisis for many countries!

From conserving natural resources, to advancing developments in technology, graphene could improve humanity for the better. So, where is it?

The reality is that mass-producing graphene is still a costly endeavor. However, the world has started to take notice of the material’s potential — the EU has invested $1.3 billion into research from 2013-2023. Although the price of has dropped, by the end of 2015, a 0.35 oz still cost $1,000.

Silicon is still a more favorable material from a production stand-point. Plastics and carbon fiber also faced similar challenges when first discovered. The innovation wave is coming, and when it arrives, we can (hopefully) look forward to a brighter, better future.

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