Futuristic Digital Assistant Viv Takes the Stage

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Viv Labs CEO Dag Kittlaus on Monday demonstrated at Disrupt NY 2016 technology that was designed to make people-to-machine interactions as natural as people-to-people interactions.

Kittlaus, the former CEO of Siri, and other Siri vets cofounded Viv in 2012.

The artificial intelligence-enabled interface requires no user manual and can handle complex tasks via simple commands. It eventually will make many of the most tedious aspects of existing apps, sites and services obsolete, Kittlaus said.

Act Naturally

That kind of digital assistant is far from what we have now with Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Alexa.

“These systems are primarily working on observations of past behavior and patterns,” said Julie Äsk, principal analyst for e-business at Forrester Research.

“They are not yet solving new problems and building new insights. Most of this is what we call ‘static assembly,'” she told TechNewsWorld. “Think Amazon Echo — a few APIs and a few integrated services. Not the universe of services.”

Echo, which has a speech interface that uses Alexa, is a smart speaker that handles a limited number of tasks compared to digital assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Google Now.

Voice-powered interfaces with AI provide users with a more natural experience, Äsk noted. “Apps are unnatural in many ways and demand orchestration from the consumer. Bots and AI can be more natural.”

Bot World

The existing array of digital assistants is a prelude to a world of digital robots or bots. “They’re the first step toward having digital servants in our lives that are somewhat intelligent,” noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“Interaction with those servants will be by voice without the safety net of a keyboard or screen. Alexa, the digital agent in Amazon’s smart Echo speaker, is where digital assistants are headed,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Siri, Cortana and Google Now are all alternatives to a screen and touch. With Alexa, you don’t have that option. You’re only going to talk to Echo because it doesn’t have a keyboard, mouse or screen” Enderle continued. “Ideally, you won’t have a phone or PC. You’ll just speak, and the digital assistant will do.”

High-Stakes Game

Viv is entering a market that could define the digital world of the future.

“It’ll be an important market,” said Roger L. Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

“It’s not for nothing some of the big players have already tried to buy these guys,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Both Facebook and Google reportedly have made offers to purchase Viv.

“Everyone recognizes that at some point in time, voice is going to be an important differentiator,” Enderle noted.

Viv is the new kid on the block forced to compete with established players, although that block doesn’t seem to have a clear leader yet.

“Nuance seems to have the greatest history and archive of AI, but other contenders — Google, Apple and Microsoft — all have versions of their own, and Amazon has a solid hit with the Echo,” Kay said. “So it’s an open horse race.”

The edge goes to Facebook in that race, said Forrester’s Äsk. “Facebook has the best shot given the audience they own and their success with Messenger, but don’t rule anyone out.”

Whatever the outcome of the race, the stakes are high.

“This will be the next generation of computing,” Enderle said, “so whoever gets this right first could be the next Microsoft.”

Google, Fiat Chrysler Team on Self-Driving Minivans

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Google’s Self-Driving Car Project and Fiat Chrysler last week announced that they would integrate autonomous vehicle technology into 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans as part of Google’s testing program.

It is the first time Google has worked directly with a car manufacturer to integrate its self-driving technology into a passenger vehicle.

It will add 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid vehicles, designed and engineered by Fiat Chrysler, to its existing self-driving test program — more than doubling the number of cars participating in the program. Google will integrate the sensors and computers the vehicles use to navigate roads without a driver.

Both companies will place a portion of their engineering teams in a facility in southeastern Michigan to speed up the development of self-driving cars.

Safer Roads

“The opportunity to work closely with FCA engineers will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer and bring everyday destinations within reach for those who cannot drive,” said John Krafcik, CEO of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project.

Self-driving technology has the potential to prevent 33,000 auto-related deaths per year, 94 percent of them due to human error, the companies said.

Google is testing self-driving cars in four U.S. cities: Mountain View, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Kirkland, Wash.; and Phoenix. Google’s self-driving team will test the self-driving minivans on its private test track in California, prior to being deployed on public roads, the company said.

Google won’t sell the vehicles being tested with the autonomous technology. However, the team is studying how community members perceive and interact with the autonomous vehicles, and based on that the vehicle performance will be smoothed out to make them feel more natural to people inside and outside of the vehicles, Google’s Self-Driving Car Project said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by spokesperson Lauren Barriere.

Google Steps Ahead

The announcement means Google has taken a huge leap forward ahead of the competition in the development of self-driving cars, according to Colin Bird, senior analyst at IHS.

“Google is on the vanguard of deploying self-driving, driverless car software,” he told TechNewsWorld. “The main issue they were facing was who was going to license it for the vehicles, as Google has shown no indication of wanting to make a vehicle themselves.”

The collaboration suggests that Fiat Chrysler would be interested in deploying Google’s L5 technology — driverless and requiring no human intervention — when the system is commercialized, Bird suggested.

Until now, Google has been using modified Lexus and Toyota SUVs and hybrids as well as 100 pod cars developed by its own engineers.

The Chrysler Pacifica minivan could become part of an autonomous on-demand network of vehicles through a Car as a Service, Bird said. The minivan is “space optimized, features plenty of seats, and previous FCA minivan models have been modified to be wheelchair accessible.”

Other Chrysler minivan models have been integral components in car-for-hire fleets, he noted.

Industry-Wide Race

The Google announcement marks the latest advance in the rush to develop autonomous vehicles.

Late last month, Google announced an alliance with Ford, Uber, Lyft and Volvo called the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, designed to promote the safety of autonomous vehicles. David Strickland, formerly of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was named the national spokesperson for the coalition.

Apple last month reportedly hired Chris Porritt, former vice president of vehicle engineering at Tesla, to head up its Project Titan top-secret car program in Germany.

Clock Is Ticking for Free Windows 10 Upgrade

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Microsoft last week announced that Windows 10 was running on 300 million PCs and reminded customers that its free upgrade offer would end July 29. After that date, the price to upgrade to Windows 10 Home will be US$119.

“We’re pleased to see Windows 10 become one of the largest online services in less than a year,” said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate VP of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group.

Windows 10 services, including apps such as Photos, Groove Music, Movies & TV and Universal Windows Platform apps like Facebook and Instagram, are getting better and many more will be “coming in the upcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update this summer,” he added.

To upgrade, consumers just need to accept Windows 10 when the pop-up window appears on their desktops.

On Track

Windows 10 “is moving much faster than any previous OS update,” said Steve Kleynhans, a research VP at Gartner. It’s “proceeding pretty much as we expected, and by July 29 they should be somewhere just shy of 400 million devices.”

Microsoft’s goal was to have 1 billion Windows 10 users within two to three years of Windows 10’s launch, and “I don’t think they will have any trouble hitting the target based on the level of acceptance we are seeing so far,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“The question isn’t whether Microsoft will hit 1 billion, but whether it happens in three years or closer to two,” Kleynhans said.

It’s in the company’s interest get users to upgrade.

“Microsoft obviously wants to reduce its operating costs, and supporting old operating systems is a high-cost obligation,” pointed out Mike Jude, program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

Down to Business

The upgrade likely has been mainly on consumer PCs, as it “comes with a number of strings that may not be suitable for businesses,” Kleynhans noted.

“Companies can’t just roll out a new OS; it takes months to build expertise, do appropriate testing and engineer a new environment,” he added. It may take a year or more to perform the updates once a business begins deployment.

“We’re seeing the early phase of enterprise adoption, with 83 percent of our enterprise customers in active trials today,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in comments provided to TechNewsWorld by company rep Lenette Larson. “There are positive early signals from customers with proof of concepts.”

However, “people aren’t exactly falling all over themselves to upgrade,” Frost’s Jude told TechNewsWorld.

“Upgrading to Windows 10 is a significant overhead many businesses don’t want to take on right now,” he said. “Couple that with the hypersensitivity of most businesses to possible security risks, and the risk associated with implementing an untried operating system may be unacceptable.”

The consumer space is having its own issues, Jude noted. “Most consumers keep their machines much longer than business does, and many of the existing machines simply can’t run Windows 10, mostly because of hardware limitations.”

Who Should Upgrade and How

The free Windows 10 upgrade is available to “qualified new or existing Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices that upgrade by July 29,” the Microsoft spokesperson told TechNewsWorld.

Consumers can check whether their device is compatible with Windows 10.

Before upgrading, users should back up everything, Jude cautioned. “Make sure you have a load disc for your previous operating system and all of the applications that you use. If Windows 10 crashes on install, and even if it doesn’t, you want to be able to retreat to your last known good implementation.”

He uses Windows 7, which is stable, he said. He has tried to upgrade to Windows 10 on three machines but has “had issues on each that prevented a clean load. I think it needs some work.”

Businesses “ought to remain on Windows 7 at least until Windows 10’s security profile is better understood,” Jude suggested. “No one should stay with Windows 8 or 8.1.”