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The Amazon Alexa’s distinct AI skills are raising bars and eyebrows

(TECH NEWS) Amazon’s Alexa is insanely talented – like 15,000 distinct skills kind of talented and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Get ready for takeover

As AG’s self-appointed correspondent on the robot apocalypse, I note with some interest that Alexa, one of the “clearly named with a supervillain in mind” entries in the ongoing race for consumer artificial intelligence, has passed 15,000 distinct AI skills. I am perturbed. Perturbed, I am.

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I don’t know about y’all, but I have maybe 15 skills, and this is the best one. Let me be the first to welcome our soft-voiced, bluelit conquerors.

Ahead by a mile

Tripling my troubles is the fact that the closest competitors aren’t even in the neighborhood, with Google Assistant and Cortana chalking up a measly 378 and 65 respectively.

We officially have a leader in the race for Skynet.

More importantly, however, those numbers, collected by VoiceBot but confirmed by the companies, show a trend in AI tech that, for consumers to get the most out of their equipment needs to come in tandem with changes in tech usage.

Everyone uses technology for different things

There were probably different factions glowering at each other around the Lunch Rock over whether hand-axes were better for hunting, hacking or hygiene. What unites us all, however is that pretty much all of us, your humble narrator emphatically included, uses only a tiny fraction of his devices’ various functions.

Real talk: if you replaced my laptop with a typewriter that played death metal at regular intervals, there’s an excellent chance I wouldn’t notice.

And yet, I am given to understand, computers do other things.

Amazon’s insane 15,000 units of functionality are that problem raised by an order of magnitude. Ruts abound in consumer tech, whether it’s “email, spreadsheet, game” or “notifications, calendar, selfie” or my own “article, Tetris, Swedish men shouting at one another.”

That’s silly enough with a tablet or smartphone, both of which are designed to optimize that behavior.

AI is an opportunity to break those ruts for good, to run your thermostat or chat with your favorite Disney character without having to get out of your chair, let alone break workflow.

Here we are

Alexa, Cortana, Siri – seriously, I’m never going to get over the 70s SF names – really aren’t just smartphones that talk anymore. Frankly, they were for a while. But ever since the last holiday, when orders for Alexa in particular went through the flippin’ heliopause, AI has begun to deliver on its promise of a brighter, more interactive, more interesting world.

Don’t miss it.

#ExploreAI

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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.

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How this tinkerer became a Full Stack Developer

(TECHNOLOGY) There are so many ways to become a Full Stack Developer – here’s the path a perpetual tinkerer took.

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brandtley mcminn

It all started with Legos. Long before he became a Full Stack Developer, Brandtley McMinn was a curious child with a mechanical mind, obsessed with Legos (as any mechanically inclined child is). He was a born tinkerer, raised in a home that was partially built by his father’s hands (a fellow tinkerer).

McMinn graduated from Legos to tinkering with lawnmowers, and eventually cars.

In high school, he picked up a programming course at the same time as digging into a book on game programming. Most stories would lead to someone becoming a world class game developer, but this combo was a false start for McMinn.

Like many others, he notes that false starts are common on the path to becoming a developer, and the key is to take a mental break and try again later.

And try, he did.

His senior year of high school, he joined the robotics club, and they needed a webmaster. On a whim, he took to the project and learned HTML and then CSS as the programming language was still new. This became his foundation.

Going to college for the game development program was another false start as he was blocked from taking those courses in his first year at Austin Community College due to prerequisite credits.

So the following year, he signed up for the Web Interactive program. He already had WordPress development under his belt, and he sought to add design skills and more technical knowledge to his repertoire, and to become a more well-rounded developer.

Today, McMinn is a Full Stack Developer for a company whose back end stack is Lumin with some PHP (which was already in his wheelhouse), and Angular on the front end.

He calls the combination comfortable and enjoyable.

His path was that of a curious tinkerer that blossomed into a skilled developer who is endlessly inquisitive and perpetually learning.

McMinn believes the biggest hurdle to becoming a Full Stack Developer is discovering your aptitude and interest.

He recommends experimenting with free or inexpensive online courses, asserting that someone that believes they’re interested in front end should to go to Udemy, find a course that has good ratings, and just try one – he says you could spend $10 on an afternoon-long course on Angular and know whether or not it’s for you.

Experiment. Dig. Keep digging. Keep testing.

McMinn says the trickiest part of becoming a Full Stack Developer is finding where you want to fit in, and then doing the work to discover your interests and aptitudes. There is no ideal path, but moving past this learning curve is tricky for many.

Self starters will thrive as developers, McMinn says, and will dive in and have a desire to learn. People that can move past the inevitable false starts will flourish.

Personalities that prefer to silo themselves away from the team or that believe they know everything, will not likely thrive in the ever-evolving world of development, he notes.

So what’s next for McMinn? He has ample side projects and hobbies that he enjoys, that allow him to continue creating with his hands, and has the entrepreneurial itch, so we anticipate he’ll someday soon be the boss as he continues to tinker.

Connect with McMinn on GitHub.

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Brandmark makes branding and re-branding a breeze

(TECH NEWS) If you’re a small business looking for branding or to re-brand but don’t have the time nor budget, this tool can help you get it done!

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AI brandmanaging

AI is growing, now it can even be your own personal graphic designer.

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The new company Brandmark uses AI to create custom brand identities in minutes. All you need to do is describe your business and leave the designing up to them.

Brandmark

Brandmark describes their system as “more than just a logo,” as they aid people in developing an entire brand identity. This includes a complete style guide, color scheme and even a WordPress compatible website template.

It is the perfect tool for small businesses and entrepreneurs who may not have the budget to hire an in-house designer to join their team.

The creators of Brandmark have attempted to give the platform personal elements as well, so that you can understand the design decisions and even have the chance to make it your own.

Easy peasy

The process is as simple as it can get. All that Brandmark requires is for you to type in a few keywords that best describe your business. For example, a coffee shop might type in “coffee, hot, lounge, mocha, books, relaxation.” These keywords are anything that can be associated with your brand so it is important to include adjectives as well. Consider how you want customers to feel when they see your product or walk into your shop for the first time.

All of these details will help Brandmark create a unique and personal identity for you.

The creators of the tool wanted it to feel like a true designer. That is why they have developed a system that understands design principles. After creating a look, Brandmark will explain the design choice and how it relates to your brand. In addition, you have access to features that allow you to customize the design.

Just like any professional service, Brandmark provides a style guide that can be used to apply your brand - including logo, color scheme and font - to various type of products. Click To Tweet

For instance, the same coffee shop would know how to apply their logo to coffee cups, bags, mugs and menus by following the guide. In addition, website layouts are offered to get your online business started. It’s an all-in-one package to get your business up and running with a professional look.

Give it a shot

Brandmark is currently in beta testing and is available for anyone to sign up and try.

#Brandmark

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Yodatai: the intelligent chatbot that is will wind up any data lovers’ gears

(TECH NEWS) The newest chatbot is about to change your world for good. Yodatai is all about helping you, not pretending to.

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Makin’ waves

The digital data gurus at Knoema have recently announced their release of their messenger-first chatbot, Yodatai.

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This is exciting, as even though chatbots themselves are not new, Yodatai is the “first-ever AI interface to connect with both public and industry data corporate BI databases.”

Awwww, yeah!

Unless you are an analyst or data maven, you may be curious as to what is exciting about this release. After all, for many, the term “chatbot” does not have the best connotation- often bringing up memories of the essentially useless chatbots so commonly found in the “Help” section of a website. And, you know, spam.

But nay, dear reader, this isn’t that old AOL Instant Messenger chatbot you interacted with when you literally had nothing else to do (except for homework).

Yodatai, as far as I can tell, actually seems incredibly useful.

Yodatai

As Yodatai is a messenger-first bot, you can ask her (him? it?) questions directly from your messenger application of choice. Currently, Knoema states that the bot is fully compatible with Slack, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Telegram, Twitter and E-Mail.

It is likely that more messenger-services will be added to this list over time.

Need some information regarding crude oil manufacturing in the Middle East? Ask Yodatai. Need to fact-check a tweet? Send a tweet @Yodatai so the bot can lay the fact down on these fools. (Get it? Like lay the smack down? People still say that, right?) Drawing from Knoema’s ever-increasing database of public information (which the company quotes at “2.5 billion time series from thousands of sources”), Yodatai is sure to have information on pretty much whatever you need.

Connectivity: A+

Even more useful, however, is her ability to connect with private databases. Currently, the bot integrates with the Amplitude analytics platform and more pre-built integrations are in the works.

So, for example, if one needed to know the number of registered users for their website, they could ask Yodatai.

Similarly, if they needed some more in-depth information regarding a product or project, they could, theoretically, ask Yodatai. And, unlike the Jedi Master with whom she shares an eerily similar name, answers are provided in a full sentence, easy-to-read format. Proper syntax and everything.

She’s not a know it all… yet

There will be, of course, questions that Yodatai may be unable to answer. These more complex inquiries may require human assistance, and in the event of such a question being asked, the chatbot will transparently get Knoema’s data experts involved.

As stated on the website, “she learns from them.”

Maybe it’s just me, but images of an ultra-high-functioning, eerily coherent digital baby cannot help but spring to mind.

Yes, please

Needless to say, Yodatai will likely save a ton of time regarding data research and acquisition. No word has been given yet how much access to the chatbot will cost, but many will likely find the cost to be well worth it.

And, as a bonus, as she primarily deals with data, it’s unlikely she will attempt to eliminate humanity! Pretty solid win, if you ask me.

#Yodatai

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