AI assistant wars
In the grim darkness of the AI Assistant Wars (I would totally read that YA fiction series) Amazon has built up a sizable lead. As noted in our December roundup, Amazon’s Alexa was the most fully developed and integrated among the big three of Amazon, Apple and Google. As yet, that hasn’t changed.
But if last week’s Google I/O event was anything to go by, that may stop being the case, and soon.
Google stepping in
In the early days of the Magic Robot Helper race, Amazon had a massive advantage: it sells all the things. It may even be starting to sell its competitors’ things.
They’ve got supply chain-to-retail wired like nobody else.
That got Alexa on the market, in people’s houses, and most importantly in the hands of developers who could actually make Alexa, you know, do useful things, faster than Apple and Google could dream.
The question, and it’s a big question, is whether that’s enough.
At Google I/O, the House of Pichal made a powerful pitch grounded in the many reasons it might not be.
The vital fact is none of these AI assistants have really integrated into a user experience yet. Amazon’s early lead only means a bunch of stuff is being sold that has Alexa functionality built into it. Whether the stuff works or people want it, which is kind of what matters when we’re talking market share, is an open question.
There hasn’t been a marketwide push to adopt the tech.
At I/O, Google made a serious case for resolving that issue. Fundamentally, Amazon is a retail company. Google is a tech company, above all an information retrieval and management company. That, it says, is the core of the AI assistant user experience.
It’s meant to be the ultimate interface, the way to get the Internet to answer your questions by just asking them out loud.
Google is the unquestioned leader in the tech that makes that possible: voice recognition, search algorithms, language parsing and so on. More importantly, Google has a relationship with the developer community that none of its competitors can match, which it showed at the I/O conference by giving 7,000 developers a free Google Home speaker and $700 of cloud computing credits.
Bark and bite
When it comes to AI, Google has quite literally put its money where its mouth is. Will that be enough to outstrip Amazon’s early lead and Apple’s hard core (see what I did there? Apple core? Never mind) of loyalists? We’ll keep you posted.
Airbnb addresses issues in accessibility by adding new filters and photos
(TECHNOLOGY) Finding accessibility-friendly Airbnbs lodging has not been the easiest process, but the company just unveiled new features to help.
In a commendable step forward for the platform, Airbnb has updated its filtering features and added additional location photo screening to make its platform more user-friendly for those with disabilities. This is the first big overhaul since 2019. Studies have demonstrated that guests with disabilities are more likely to face discrimination on the platform and the platform is making moves to address this issue. In a tweet on November 9th, the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, posted: “We’re reviewing every accessibility feature on Airbnb for accuracy. To date, our agents have double-checked photos of features in more than 25,000 homes.” The tweet features an 18-second video showcasing the accessibility features interface, which looks promising at a first glance.
In a curious decision, the number of accessibility filters has been lowered from 21 to 13, in what is described as an attempt to streamline searches. While there is room for skepticism on that notion, better screening and search optimization for the remaining accessibility features is a welcome improvement. Perhaps we’ll see some of the nixed search filters, such as handheld showerheads, make a return in future updates.
The standards and burden of evidence for listing accessibility options have become more stringent. Each feature now must be clearly documented with photo or video evidence, which are reviewed by designated trained staff. With standards now clearly defined for hosts to use to determine accessibility compliance of their spaces, the process should be smoother for all parties involved. Examples of clarified guidelines include defining a ‘wide entrance to bedroom’ to be at least a 32-inch doorway, with photos of the measurement to confirm, as well as similar additional documentation being required for accessible parking spaces. Where previously hosts just had to show a space clearly marked as accessible, images or video now need to also show how far from the primary entrance the space is, as well as prove that the space is clearly labeled with official signage or has a private driveway a minimum of 11 feet wide.
As a disabled person myself, and with a partner who has two defective knees– I can say there are a few filters I will miss. However, the more reliable accuracy of the labels for postings is a large step forward. I look forward to not getting any more third-story apartments showing up in searches for wheelchair-accessible properties. Planning my next vacation will likely be much less frustrating, if only we could agree on somewhere to go.
Update (December 07, 2021 at 12:58pmCST): Liz DeBold Fusco, Communications Lead for North America at Airbnb tells us, “To better serve our guests, and with input from our community and partners, we have updated the filters to make it easier for guests to find homes which suit their needs. One of those updates is simplifying to focus on essential and most used filters.”
Can you afford missing a paycheck? Finance tips for freelancers
(FINANCE) Freelancers who are not always promised a regular paycheck could benefit from staying on top of their finances. Here’s our tips!
Most Americans don’t have a regular savings account and could not handle a $1,000 emergency, let alone miss practically a month of pay. We all could benefit from some careful reflection about the precarious nature of our personal finances.
Particularly those of us who don’t receive a regular paycheck.
Entrepreneurs and those invested in the gig economy have volatile incomes, and literally no promise of a paycheck ever – that can impact your personal finances in a number of ways.
Variable incomes are normal for this group and can impact entrepreneurs in ways as simple as handling debt.
If this is you – here are a few things to keep in mind that can help you deal with the volatility of living on a variable income and handling your personal finances.
- Set up an emergency fund. Start with 500 if you have to, and remember this is an emergency fund for your personal expenses, not your business. If you have an emergency fund, make sure you identify what an emergency is and also be prepared to put money back when it comes out. If you have a hard time not spending money in front of you, put your money in a local bank or CU that you don’t have immediate access too.
- Stick to a budget. when you can’t forecast your income appropriately, controlling expenses is so critical it’s the few things that are in your control.
- Don’t mix business with personal. While you may be pouring your personal energy and time into your start-up or gig, be careful about mixing expenses for two reasons: First, it messes up your budget. You need to have separate budgets for personal and business. Second, there could be tax challenges – consult a tax professional for more information. Here’s a little primer to get you started.
- Save for retirement. There are tax benefits and come on, don’t wait till you can’t work anymore. Also, an IRA IS NOT AN EMERGENCY FUND.
- Practice good financial behaviors. Automate bill pay. Online statements. Digital receipt tracking. The more you can automate your life, the better you are. You already have so many demands on your time, reduce that so you can spend more time doing what you love and what matters.
- Consider diversifying your income. Either ensure you have multiple strings or a backup gig (even if it’s just uber driving) or be prepared to do temporary or contract labor during your slow seasons.
The path to entrepreneurship is rough. If the government can be unstable, those of you who work in the world of startups, gigs, and entrepreneurship, need to be even more on your toes. The “normal recommendation” for saving is 10% of your income, but normal may not be enough for you. Be prepared and save (more) of your paycheck.
Disclaimer: I am neither a tax nor investment professional. This is personal financial advice and I encourage you to visit a professional if you need more specific plans of action.
iOS 15 beta has blur nude photos opt-in, but its not without fault
(TECH NEWS) To protect children from explicit content, the most recent beta version of iOS 15 includes a feature that allows users to blur nude photos.
In a move to protect children from explicit content, the most recent beta version of iOS 15 includes a feature that allows users to blur nude photos received in the Messages app. Amid privacy concerns, the feature has yet to be released.
This iteration of the feature is distinct from the original one insofar as it will no longer alert a parent or guardian when nude photos are encountered. While this may seem like a controversial change, several experts pointed out that exposing nude content on a child’s device in some households could result in abuse or, as Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic instructor Kendra Albert suggests, the outing of “queer or transgender children to their parents.”
With the most recent version of this feature enabled, children who receive inappropriate photos via the Messages app would be able to do two things: choose to avoid (or see) the content, and choose to send a report to a trusted adult if they see fit to do so.
Blurring photos is just one of several aspects of Apple’s Communication Safety suite, a feature that aims to prevent child sex abuse by making it easier for children to avoid and report predatory content.
Another feature that Apple has tested – but not released – is their Child Sex Abuse Imagery Detection (CSAM-detection), which scans and reports iCloud content that shows child pornography or abuse to Apple moderators for further review. As one can imagine, the feature drew mixed criticism, the majority of which came from privacy advocates.
While the vast majority of humanity can (hopefully) agree that fighting against child exploitation is a noble cause, these groups argue that scanning and reporting individuals’ personal photos via an algorithm opens the door to government interference and increased surveillance. Switching the algorithm’s baseline to scan for things like anti-government content, for example, would be easy, these groups posit, making the feature extremely dangerous in principle.
There is no current release date set for any of these aforementioned features, though iPhone users can reasonably expect them to drop at some point during iOS 15’s development.
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