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SilentEcho: the oxymoronic Slack bot that is anything but moronic

(TECH NEWS) Alexa is a great way to automate tasks, but when you can’t give voice commands, Slack has a great alternative.

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Slack + Alexa

Alexa is my favorite part of the Fire TV stick. I was previously using a Roku device, but I’ll never go back because I simply love the added feature of Alexa. Alexa allows users control their lights, music, and read news, as well as, place orders from the Amazon store and show you your daily schedule. Alexa is a great way to automate tasks, but it hinges on the ability to use your voice to receive commands.

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While it is actually pretty good at hearing you over light-to-medium background noise, sometimes background noise is unexpected or too loud (construction, a neighbor’s party, your boss’ Metallica addiction), or you are simply not in a place where shouting out to Alexa is practical. Slack is serving up a way to still communicate with Alexa, without using your voice, by using text-to-talk.

Talk to the bot

Slack’s new option is called SilentEcho. It is a bot (currently in beta) which uses text-to-talk technology to take the commands you type and turn them into speech Alexa can recognize.

The bot was developed by Bespoken and uses Amazon’s API to send a voice message to Alexa then you type out what you need, no matter what’s going on in the background.

Great for non-programmers too

This bot was originally intended to offer developers a way to interact with Alexa while they were programming with the API, but it looks like it could wind up being just as useful to non-programmers as well.

Keep in mind, there are a few limitations with the SilentEcho.

The bot cannot do anything that requires being linked to your payment account (no reordering), but it can still play music, complete home automation, or give you weather updates; which let’s face it are likely the things you do most frequently when you’re away from home and away from your Echo and Alexa devices.

What about the app?

Some users will be quick to point out that you can sent commands through the app, but oftentimes work, school, and other public places restrict the use of cellphones, whereas your access to Slack is less likely to be restricted.

I’m not encouraging being sneaky.

However, I am a forgetful person and I understand there are times you need to turn off a light or lock a door so you’re not worrying about it through your business meeting or class and SilentEcho is a good option in these situations.

A solid option

If you already have a Slack account, you’ll need to be an admin to enable the bot and there are rumors that Slack will roll out a Twitter version of the bot: you tweet to the bot and it “tells” Alexa what you need.

You may not use these option as frequently as you use the app or your remotes, but they could prove to be quite handy in a pinch.

#SilentEcho

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Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

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A deepfakes creator for text so realistic it can’t be made public yet

(TECHNOLOGY) You know about video deepfakes, but the technology exists for doing convincing deepfakes for text. It’s so good that they aren’t ready to release it to the public yet…

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Artificial intelligence is being used to complete more and more human tasks. But as of right now, news stories you read online – including all the articles here on American Genius – have been written by real human beings.

Until recently, even the most intelligent computers couldn’t be trained to recreate the complex rules and stylistic subtleties of language. AI-generated text would often wander off topic or mix up the syntax and lack context or analysis.

However, a non-profit called OpenAI says they have developed a text generator that can simulate human writing with remarkable accuracy.

The program is called GPT2. When fed any amount of text, from a few words to a page, it can complete the story, whether it be a news story or a fictional one.

You already know about video deepfakes, but these “deepfakes for text” stay on subject and match the style of the original text. For example, when fed the first line of George Orwell’s 1984, GPT2 created a science-fiction story set in a futuristic China.

This improved text generator is much better at simulating human writing because it has learned from a dataset that is “15 times bigger and broader” than its predecessor, according to OpenAI research director, Dario Amodei.

Usually researchers are eager to share their creations with the world – but in the case, the Elon Musk-backed organization has, at least of the time being, withheld GPT2 from the public out of fear of what criminals and other malicious users might do with it.

Jack Clark, OpenAI’s head of policy, says that the organization needs more time to experiment with GPT2’s capabilities so that they can anticipate malicious uses. “If you can’t anticipate all the abilities of a model, you have to prod it to see what it can do,” he says. “There are many more people than us who are better at thinking what it can do maliciously.”

Some potential malicious uses of GPT2 could include generating fake positive reviews for products (or fake negative reviews of competitors’ products); generating SPAM messages; writing fake news stories that would be indistinguishable from real news stories; and spreading conspiracy theories.

Furthermore, because GPT2 learns from the internet, it wouldn’t be hard to program GPT2 to produce hate speech and other offensive messages.

As a writer, I can’t think of very many good reasons to use an AI story generator that doesn’t put me out of job. So I appreciate that the researchers at OpenAI are taking time to fully think through the implications before making this Pandora’s box of technology available to the general public.

Says Clark, “We are trying to develop more rigorous thinking here. We’re trying to build the road as we travel across it.”

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This AI program wants to be your graphic designer

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

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 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.

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.

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This eye tracking tech could be what saves VR

(TECHNOLOGY) VR has struggled with adoption rates, but this new technology could finally make it more useful in daily life.

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VR could be saved

The new HTC Vive Pro Eye VR headset made its debut at CES 2019. An updated version of the HTC Vive Pro, its features are expected to have a variety of uses over the long-term.

The Vive Pro Eye features new eye tracking technology developed in partnership with Tobii Eye Tracking. Inside the headset are sensors around the eyes to help the A.I. target what your eye is seeing. This is integrated into the UI design, allowing users to select menu options just by looking at their choice. In theory, users can choose how to interact with different A.I. characters or in VR chat spaces.

The eye tracking features Dynamic Foveated Rendering which will allow the computer to render VR objects the user is looking at to a high resolution. Likewise, images on the user’s periphery or outside the field of view will appear at a lower resolution or won’t be rendered at all. This way headset will require less performance power from its graphics card, and can still generate high-quality images in the places that matter.

Another feature is the A.I. assist where the computer can register intended targets in the VR environment based upon where your eyes are looking. This could be helpful for newcomers to VR instead of adjusting to the hand-eye coordination with the remote.

In a new industry like VR, the turnover rate for technology is fairly high, but the fovated rendering is likely to stay. Since its practicality not only enhances user experience, but also provides support from a hardware standpoint, its not outlandish to think developers will piggy-back off this new feature.

Sounds like fun? Well, currently the Vive Pro Eye is meant for business ventures rather than for consumers. But we’ll likely see this technology eventually find its way into more affordable VR products. There is no release date or price range yet available.

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