What Google Assistant calls will actually be like

Perhaps you were slightly unnerved by Silicon Valley cheering Google's startlingly convincing and conversant simulation of a human voice! You know they don't really give a damn about online fakery and abuse, so you know they won't give a damn what ends this tech is put to.

Thankfully, it probably won't work quite so well as the demo. Mr. Bandwagon's edit of Google's presentation is great, an artifact popping in perfect form from the near future's mercifullly unequal distribution.

The thing is this: if humans don't know they're talking to robots, they won't talk in a way robots will understand, which is what we tend to do with Siri and other voice assistants. It'll take a lot of machine learning to grasp the complexities and vagaries of truly natural human speech, a point so obvious that everyone assumes it will obviously be overcome.

Maybe we'll find ourselves talking robotically for the benefit of machines we believe are human. But it's more likely we'll become swiftly inoculated against The Voice, attuned to its little shibboleths and flaws--no Voight-Kampff test necessary--at least for now. We'll just be angrier than ever at our phones, hanging up at the first sign of Robocall 2.0, until it becomes so pervasive we have no choice. Read the rest

EFF tells the Copyright Office: we don't know how to make voice assistants better, but here's how not to make them worse

Every three years, the US Copyright Office asks for proposals for exemptions to Section 1201 of the DMCA, which bans breaking DRM; in 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a broad "jailbreaking" exemption to modify the firmware of phones and tablets; this year, we're asking for that permission to be extended to smart speakers like Alexa/Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePods, and the smaller players in the market. Read the rest

Adversarial examples: attack can imperceptibly alter any sound (or silence), embedding speech that only voice-assistants will hear

Adversarial examples have torn into the robustness of machine-vision systems: it turns out that changing even a single well-placed pixel can confound otherwise reliable classifiers, and with the right tricks they can be made to reliably misclassify one thing as another or fail to notice an object altogether. But even as vision systems were falling to adversarial examples, audio systems remained stubbornly hard to fool, until now. Read the rest

A cheap way to use Amazon Alexa

At $20, the Eufy Genie Smart Speaker With Amazon Alexa is the least expensive hands-free Alexa speaker I know of. I got my first Alexa device last year (a Dot) and my family uses it many times a day to listen to podcasts, get NPR news briefings, weather forecasts, audiobooks, latest bitcoin price, word definitions, Wikipedia entries, kitchen timer and more. I don't have this particular item, but I ordered one for upstairs. Read the rest

Voice assistants can be hacked by commanding them with inaudible ultrasonic speech

In DolphinAttack: Inaudible Voice Commands, researchers from Zhejiang University demonstrate an attack on popular voice assistants in laptops and mobile devices from Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, and Huawei: by commanding these assistants using speech that has been shifted to ultrasonic ranges, they are able to hijack devices in public places without their owners' knowledge. Read the rest