Making “Her” Into Reality

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Spike Jonze’s latest movie, “Her,” creates a future where technology is less visible, yet more ubiquitous than today. The main character uses an earpiece and handheld device to communicate with an operating system that follows a user across any platform, rarely utilizing the traditional desktop screens except when at work. And the main way of interacting with the operating system is through natural, conversational speech.

Even though it is science fiction, “Her” seems to be the end state for many current acquisitions and research from real-life tech companies. These companies are pursuing enhanced artificial intelligence and speech recognition. And the companies who don’t jump on this future will be left in the digital dust.

Established artificial intelligence
The most well-known characters in AI today are IBM’s Watson and Apple’s Siri.

Watson takes human’s natural language and filters through data to find the most probable answers. It can take “unstructured data,” that is, data computers typically cannot read because it isn’t structured in tables, rows, or columns, and turn it into knowledge accessible not through complex queries but simple, vocal questions. It’s now being used to help doctors find better cancer treatments and financial planners find better investments. IBM hopes Watson will bring in $1 billion in revenue by 2018.

Siri first debuted in Apple’s iPhone 4S, allowing for simple functions like searching the web and initiating a call or writing a text message. The latest iOS version added more functionality for Siri, like sourcing information from Wikipedia and Twitter.

Apple’s latest acquisitions point to further enhancements for Siri. In 2013, the company picked up intelligent calendar application Cue, which helps layout a user’s day similar to Google Now. It also bought Topsy, which allowed customers to analyze and search social posts. And, a recently published patent points to expanding Siri from phones to docks.

Up and coming AI
Now, Google spent a rumored $400 million on an artificial intelligence company called DeepMind. DeepMind’s website describes its software as useful in “simulations, e-commerce, and games,” and the company has an impressive talent list with a former child chess prodigy and a Skype co-creator. This piles on to Google’s other recent acquisitions of robot maker Boston Dynamics and smart home hardware maker Nest. If Google can succeed in integrating these seemingly disparate companies, it seems like having a conversation with your thermostat isn’t too far off.

Losers of an AI future
While these companies are priming themselves to own any science fiction-like future, there are companies doomed to languish if they don’t change their path.

This includes the lowly hardware maker. The future presented in “Her” doesn’t contain several devices in multiple form factors as we have now, but one handheld device and one wearable earpiece that connects to a cloud-based operating system. IBM, a case study in staying relevant, keeps shedding its hardware operations with its latest $2.3 billion sale of its server business to Lenovo. As the main players build their artificially intelligent ecosystems, the hardware becomes less important as it’s commoditized, and the main differentiation becomes software. Companies might also want more control over their hardware and the user experience, and produce their own. For example, Apple recently purchased a cutting-edge chip maker, Primesense. Microsoft stepped into producing its own hardware with its Surface tablets.

Just a movie?
On the other hand, “Her,” like most future predictions, could be far off base. While it seems artificial intelligence will play a large role in future computing, we may combine such technology with even more screens. The point where computers become more intelligent than humans, called the singularity, may not come as quickly as predicted, and these future bets may be too far off to have any impact on company values today.

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Voxer wants to “obsolete Skype” with its walkie-talkie app for businesses

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Call it the walkie-talkie, evolved. That’s the push-to-talk hook that has helped Voxer carve itself a strong niche in the ever-growing consumer messaging app space. Send a voice message and the recipient can respond in real-time.

Now, Voxer aims to attract more business users to its Voxer for Business service with new features that make it more palatable to IT departments, such as single sign-on (SSO).

“We are a poster child for the consumerization of IT,” says chief operating officer Itamar Kandel. “About 20 percent of our users are using [the free consumer version of] Voxer for business purposes today. And about 80 percent of Fortune 1000 have Voxer accounts, using the consumer version.”

Read also: An iPhone loyalist takes an Android Nexus 5 for a spin

Voxer for Business, which launched in 2011 and starts at $4.95 per user for up to 500 users, builds on what the company has established with its large consumer base, which chief operating officer Itamar Kandel says numbers in the “tens of millions of users” in more than 200 countries.

Voxer’s double whammy of push-to-talk voice messaging and instant messaging is its clearest differentiator from the rest of the crowded market. “At end of the day, our competition is the conference call, Skype, push-to-talk from the carriers, e-mail, carrier pigeons. Any way to connect to people could be seen as competition. But we’re not going to obsolete those,” says Kandel. “We will obsolete inefficient Skype, conference calls, and e-mail. At the heart of the service is live voice messaging, text messaging, pictures. Hit the button and record.” Data is stored in cloud, but if you record something when you have no reception, Voxer will record it and then send it to the cloud when you have a connection again.

Since Voxer does text messaging as well, Kandel admits that WeChat and WhatsApp are competitors, of a sort. “But all they can do is recorded voice, because of our patents. And people want live voice,” asserts Kandel. “Every time we reduce latency, we see a spike in usage. People want to talk live, not in a series of voice mails or e-mails.”

Credit: Screenshot
Voxer for Business’ Web interface, with the push-to-talk button front and center for recording voice messages.

As Voxer continues to evolve its business product, it’s focusing on features that its users need. A month ago, the company released Voxer for Web. Available only for its paid business PC users, the Web version enables messaging across any platform, and adds a full on-screen keyboard for use with touch devices. Also around the same time, Voxer enabled unique usernames for its business users, as opposed to the auto-generated name provided by the consumer product.

The latest additions to the business service reflects the need for messaging to mature in a way that makes it viable for business on more than just an ad-hoc basis. “Businesses want to own their data,” says Kandel. “If you Vox from a consumer account, it’s your data. If you Vox from a business account, the business owns the data, and the data is not lost when someone leaves the company.”

Source – http://www.citeworld.com/mobile/22720/voxer-business-review