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Startups net more than capital with NBA players as investors

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in Alexa, Andre Iguodala, Basketball, Carmelo Anthony, Column, Dan Porter, david stern, Facebook, Golden State Warriors, Google, Kevin Durant, Messenger, national basketball association, NBA, overtime, player, SMS, Snap, Snapchat, snaptravel, Social Media, Spark Capital, Startups, stephen curry, TC, Telstra Ventures, toronto, twitch | 0 comments

If you’re a big basketball fan like me, you’ll be glued to the TV watching the Golden State Warriors take on the Toronto Raptors in the NBA finals. (You might be surprised who I’m rooting for.)

In honor of the big games, we took a shot at breaking down investment activities of the players off the court. Last fall, we did a story highlighting some of the sport’s more prolific investors. In this piece, we’ll take a deeper dive into just what having an NBA player as a backer can do for a startup beyond the capital involved. But first, here’s a chart of some startups funded by NBA players, both former and current.

 

In February, we covered how digital sports media startup Overtime had raised $23 million in a Series B round of funding led by Spark Capital. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern was an early investor and advisor in the company (putting money in the company’s seed round). Golden State Warriors player Kevin Durant invested as part of the company’s Series A in early 2018 via his busy investment vehicle, Thirty Five Ventures. And then, Carmelo Anthony invested (via his Melo7 Tech II fund) earlier this year. Other NBA-related investors include Baron DavisAndre Iguodala and Victor Oladipo, and other non-NBA backers include Andreessen Horowitz and Greycroft.

I talked to Overtime’s CEO, 27-year-old Zack Weiner, about how the involvement of so many NBA players came about. I also wondered what they brought to the table beyond their cash. But before we get there, let me explain a little more about what Overtime does.

Founded in late 2016 by Dan Porter and Weiner, the Brooklyn company has raised a total of $35.3 million. The pair founded the company after observing “how larger, legacy media companies, such as ESPN, were struggling” with attracting the younger viewer who was tuning into the TV less and less “and consuming sports in a fundamentally different way.”

So they created Overtime, which features about 25 to 30 sports-related shows across several platforms (which include YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and Twitch) aimed at millennials and the Gen Z generation. Weiner estimates the company’s programs get more than 600 million video views every month.

In terms of attracting NBA investors, Weiner told me each situation was a little different, but with one common theme: “All of them were fans of Overtime before we even met them…They saw what we were doing as the new wave of sports media and wanted to get involved. We didn’t have to have 10 meetings for them to understand what we were doing. This is the world they live and breathe.”

So how is having NBA players as investors helping the company grow? Well, for one, they can open a lot of doors, noted Weiner.

“NBA players are very powerful people and investors,” he said. “They’ve helped us make connections in music, fashion and all things tangential to sports. Some have created content with us.”

In addition, their social clout has helped with exposure. Their posting or commenting on Instagram gives the company credibility, Weiner said.

“Also just, in general, getting their perspectives and opinions,” he added. “A lot of our content is based on working with athletes, so they understand what athletes want and are interested in being a part of.”

It’s not just sports-related startups that are attracting the interest of NBA players. I also talked with Hussein Fazal, the CEO of SnapTravel, which recently closed a $21.2 million Series A that included participation from Telstra Ventures and Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry.

Founded in 2016, Toronto-based SnapTravel offers online hotel booking services over SMS, Facebook Messenger, Alexa, Google Home and Slack. It’s driven more than $100 million in sales, according to Fazal, and is seeing its revenue grow about 35% quarter over quarter.

Like Weiner, Fazal told me that Curry’s being active on social media about SnapTravel helped draw positive attention and “add a lot of legitimacy” to his company.

“If you’re an end-consumer about to spend $1,000 on a hotel booking, you might be a little hesitant about trusting a newer brand like ours,” he said. “But if they go to our home page and see our investors, that holds some weight in the eyes of the public, and helps show we’re not a fly-by-night company.”

Another way Curry’s involvement has helped SnapTravel is in terms of the recruitment and retainment of employees. Curry once spent hours at the office, meeting with employees and doing a Q&A.

“It was really cool,” Fazal said. “And it helps us stand out from other startups when hiring.”

Regardless of who wins the series, it’s clear that startups with NBA investors on their team have a competitive advantage. (Still, Go Raptors!)


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The Super Bowl gets voice-enabled

Posted by on Feb 1, 2019 in Alexa, Comcast, Football, Sports, Super Bowl, TC, voice assistant, voice computing | 0 comments

Amazon, Dish, Comcast and others are hoping to turn Super Bowl 2019 into a way to show off the potential for their voice technologies and TV integrations. The companies this week have been touting new features and a variety of voice commands that will allow viewers to get prepared for the big game, learn about players and teams, tune into NFL news and highlights, set their recordings and more.

In some cases, this may be as simple as asking your TV to tune to the Super Bowl, record the event or get more information about the game, as is the case with Dish. Customers can press the button on their Dish voice remote, then say “Super Bowl” or “Super Bowl 53” to watch, find information or record the game, the company says.

Comcast and Amazon are taking things further, however.

Comcast’s Xfinity X1 customers can now use their voice remote to get the latest stats, get pre-game news and post-game highlights or even turn on an app that tracks real-time stats on the screen during the big game.

For example, X1 customers can say “Tom Brady vs. Jared Goff,” “The Patriots vs. the Rams,” “Show me Julian Edelman,” “Show me Rams leaders” and other sorts of commands to get stats on teams or to learn about the players. They also can say “Super Bowl” or “NFL” to be taken to news and highlights, or say “X1 Sports app” to launch the stat-tracking feature on their TV screen.

Smart home users with Xfinity Home can even turn their lighting to their favorite team’s colors by saying”Xfinity Home, go Patriots!” or “go Rams!,” as desired.

Alexa’s Super Bowl feature set is more robust, offering the ability to ask for trivia and quizzes, background on the players and teams, stats, jokes and burns, track the odds, get historical data and more.

These sorts of questions can range from the basic — like, “where is the Super Bowl this year?” — to the more complex, like “what is the Patriots yards per carry this season?” or “how many times has Tom Brady been to the Super Bowl?”

You can also ask Alexa for a Super Bowl quiz, fact or past game recaps, in addition to more informational questions. Alexa can give you football jokes and “burns,” too.

What was surprising was that some of the stat-related questions Alexa could answer herself weren’t answered on Google Home, when asked the same way — for example, the above yards per carry question, and number of Super Bowls that Tom Brady has been to.

Both Alexa and Google Assistant will give you their own opinion on who they want to win, however. Google says it’s cheering for the underdog, the Rams. Alexa says as much as she wants to cheer for the Rams, she thinks the Patriots will win.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Amazon reports better than expected Q4, but lowers Q1 guidance

Posted by on Jan 31, 2019 in Alexa, Amazon, AWS, Earnings, echo | 0 comments

Amazon had a heck of a holiday. The online retail giant posted Q4 earnings today, reporting $72.4 billion in revenue, topping last year’s $60.45 billion and besting the analysts’ forecast of $71.92 billion.

Extremely wealthy individual Jeff Bezos singled out Alexa’s record holiday season as a source of the robust quarter.

“Alexa was very busy during her holiday season. Echo Dot was the best-selling item across all products on Amazon globally, and customers purchased millions more devices from the Echo family compared to last year,” the CEO said of the earnings. “The number of research scientists working on Alexa has more than doubled in the past year, and the results of the team’s hard work are clear.”

Amazon Web Services also played a key role here, with a massive $2.2 billion operating income. AWS’s $7.43 billion sales beat the $7.29 billion analysts’ estimate and marked a healthy jump from last year’s $5.11 billion. 

The numbers look good, though; as CNBC notes, the 19.7 percent revenue growth for the quarter is the lowest since 2015. Wall Street reaction was further dampened by Amazon’s lowered guidance for Q1. Amazon put revenue for the upcoming quarter at between $56 billion and $60 billion, below analyst expectations of $60.99 billion.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The NYT gets into voice with 5 new Alexa skills, including a daily briefing, quiz and more

Posted by on Jan 11, 2019 in Alexa, Amazon Echo, Hardware, Media, TC, The New York Times | 0 comments

The New York Times is expanding its efforts around audio programming and voice assistants, the company announced today. The NYT says it’s launching a daily flash briefing for Alexa devices, as well as an interactive news quiz, and — in an interesting twist — it will be introducing “enhanced coverage” in its Sunday paper that prompts readers to launch dedicated Alexa skills to learn more about the stories they’re reading.

On weekdays, the Times will offer a short news briefing for Alexa devices that’s hosted by Michael Barbaro of The NYT’s popular podcast, “The Daily.” Listeners can enable the Alexa skill, then ask to hear the top stories by saying “Alexa, what’s my Flash Briefing,” or “Alexa, what’s in the news?,” for example.

For now, the flash briefing consists of the last portion of “The Daily,” where Barbaro says “Here’s what else you need to know today.” Over time, the company plans to expand upon that with new stories and sound bites.

Also new today is a daily news quiz, created by “The Daily’s” producers. This will be available on Fridays, and is triggered by saying “Alexa, play The New York Times News Quiz.”

The quiz will ask questions that listeners answer to then be told if they are right or wrong. The skill will provide additional context, as well.

While daily briefing skills and quizzes are among the most popular types of Alexa skills today, the way the paper is experimenting with its Sunday paper contest is interesting.

Skill discovery is still a huge challenge on voice assistants. And even when you enable a skill, you may forget to use it or not remember what it’s called, if it’s not something you launch regularly.

The NYT’s solution is to add Alexa prompts to its printed edition of the Sunday paper, for select sections including travel, music and books.

Starting this weekend, a special section will feature Travel’s annual list of 52 Places to Go. Readers can choose to listen to the Times’s new “Traveler” writer Sebastian Modak, as he visits all the places on the list, by saying, “Alexa, open the 52 Places Traveler.”

In addition, a command to “open The Pop Music Roundup” will offer a voice round-up from Times pop music editor Caryn Ganz, while saying “Alexa, get book recommendations from The New York Times” will trigger Alexa to tell you what the paper’s book critics are reading and recommend.

All three of these Alexa skills will continue beyond this weekend and will include fresh content.

“We’ve only just begun to explore the ways that voice technology can bring Times journalism to our audience, where and how they want it,” said Monica Drake, assistant managing editor, The New York Times, in a statement about the Alexa skills. “This project is a great starting point in this effort as we begin to experiment the ways voice can work in conjunction with stayed mediums like print while also exploring native Times experiences like the flash briefing and interactive news quiz, built specifically for voice services,” she added.

The NYT already offered some of its news through Alexa and other voice assistants prior to today, as its podcast “The Daily” has been available across platforms. But this is the first time it has rolled out dedicated Alexa skills like this.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Kohler put Alexa in a toilet so Happy New Year

Posted by on Jan 7, 2019 in Alexa, amazon alexa, Gadgets, Hardware, kohler, TC | 0 comments

Kohler, the company established in 1873 and best known for its plumbing products, has shown little restraint in the connected home era. The company debuted a connected appliance platform called Kohler Konnect at CES 2018, and the push continues this year.

Feast your eyes on the Kohler Numi 2.0.

This is an intelligent toilet that uses surround sound speakers and dynamic ambient lighting systems to hopefully immerse you in an environment so tranquil, so idyllic, that you actually forget you’re sitting on a toilet. The Numi 2.0 also comes with personalized cleansing and dryer functions as well as a heated seat. Plus, the Numi 2.0 also provides a little company in the form of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. (If Instagram isn’t enough.)

This is also the first year that Kohler is releasing an entire collection of products that work together on the Konnect platform. The Veil Lighted bathroom collection includes a freestanding bath, lighted mirror, and lighted three-piece vanity alongside the Numi toilet and an integrated lighting system, all powered by voice.

With the complete collection, users can create various ‘moods’ within the app, which will then be automatically conveyed via audio and lighting within the bathrooms based on the users’ own parameters. The Veil Lighted bathroom collection also comes with support for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Kohler is also pledging to actually release a few of the items it hyped at CES 2018, including SmartFill technology on some of its bathtubs, and a voice-powered shower interface that allows customizable presets around sound, light, water and steam.

Still no word around pricing for these new smart bathroom products, but interested humans can check out the Kohler website. (Be forewarned: the website autoplays rather dramatic music.)


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The number of Alexa skills in the U.S. more than doubled in 2018

Posted by on Jan 2, 2019 in Alexa, Amazon, Apps, developers, voice, voice apps | 0 comments

Amazon Alexa had a good year as a developer platform – at least in terms of the number of voice apps being built for Alexa, if not yet the monetization of those apps. According to new data published today by Voicebot, the number of Amazon Alexa skills in the U.S. more than doubled over 2018, while the number of skills grew by 233 percent and 152 percent in Alexa’s two other top markets, the U.K. and Germany, respectively.

Amazon began the year with 25,784 Alexa skills in the U.S., which grew to 56,750 skills by the end of 2018, said Voicebot. That represents 120 percent growth, which is down from the 266 percent growth seen the year prior – but still shows continued developer interest in the Alexa platform.

At this rate of growth, that means developers were publishing an average of around 85 skills per day in 2018.

Voicebot has its own method for tracking skill counts, so these are not Amazon’s own numbers, we should note. However, Amazon itself did say at year-end 2018 that its broader Alexa ecosystem had grown to “over 70,000” total skills across markets.

In the U.K., the number of Alexa skills rose 233 percent this year to reach 29,910 by year end. In Germany, the skill count grew by 152 percent to reach 7,869 skills. Canada had 22,873 skills as of the beginning of January 2019; Australia has 22,398; Japan has 2,364; and France has 981. (Voicebot says it hasn’t yet set up a system for counting the skills in India, Spain, Mexico or Italy at this time.)

Also of interest is that much of the skill growth occurred near year-end, ahead of the busy holiday season when Alexa devices became top sellers. In the U.S., U.K. and Germany, developers published 181, 84, and 37 skills per day, respectively, during the last two months of the year.

The firm also pointed out there is some debate over whether or not the growth in third-party skills even matters, since so many of them are virtually invisible – never discovered by end users or installed in large numbers. That’s a fair criticism, in a way, but it’s also still early days for voice-based computing. Developers who are today publishing lower-rated skills may be learning from their mistakes and figuring out what works; and they’re doing so, in large numbers, on the Alexa platform.

As to what sort of skills are actually striking a chord with consumers, Amazon itself recently shared that information.

It released a year-end list of Alexa’s “top” skills, which were selected based on a number of factors including customer reviews, engagement, innovation and more, Amazon told us.

Many of the top skills were games. And many had benefited from their association with big-name brands, or had been promoted heavily by Amazon, or both.

Among the top games were music skill Beat the Intro; Heads Up!, already a top paid iOS app from Ellen DeGeneres; National Geographic’s Geo Quiz skill; Question of the Day; Skyrim Very Special Edition; The Magic Door; Trivia Hero; World Mathematics League; Would You Rather for Family; and Volley’s roleplaying game, Yes Sire.

The non-game skills were focused on daily habits, wellness, and – not surprisingly, given Alexa’s central place in consumers’ homes – family fun.

These included kid-friendly skills like Animal Workout, Chompers, Kids Court, Lemonade Stand, and Sesame Street; plus habit and wellness skills like Chop Chop, Fitbit, Headspace, Sleep and Relaxation Sounds, Find My Phone, AnyPod, Big Sky, Make Me Smart, and TuneIn Live.

It’s interesting to note that many of these also are known app names from the mobile app ecosystem, rather than breakout hits that are unique to Alexa or smart speakers. That begs the question as to how much the voice app ecosystem will end up being just a voice-enabled clone of the App Store, versus becoming a home to a new kind of app that truly leverages voice-first design and smart speakers’ capabilities.

It may be a few years before we have that answer, but in the meantime, it seems we have a lot of voice app developers trying to figure that out by building for Alexa.

 

 


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Alexa is now available on 20,000 devices

Posted by on Sep 1, 2018 in Alexa, Amazon, Hardware, ifa 2018 | 0 comments

That large number comes courtesy of Amazon’s press event at IFA in Berlin this week. It’s an impressive jump, given that the company was only boasting around 4,000 the last time it reported a number at the beginning of the year.

“Just this year,” exec Daniel Rausch told the crowd, as reported by CNET. “Alexa has sung Happy Birthday millions of times to customers, and she’s told over 100 million jokes.”

That’s a lot jokes — at least one or two of them must have been good, right?

Alexa confirmed the number with TechCrunch, noting that Alexa is on “20k+ devices you can control with Alexa, from 3500+ brands.”

Amazon’s own devices only make up a small portion of the overall number, of course. There just aren’t that many Echo smart speakers, the Fire TV and Fire tablets. But the company has been making an extremely aggressive push to get the assistant on as many third-party devices as possible.

In many cases working closely with manufacturers on integration, both as partnerships and part of the company’s Alexa Fund, designed to invest in hardware startups. These days, the list of categories Alexa access is big and only getting bigger, from phones to thermostats to TVs to cars. At IFA this week, both Huawei and Netgear brought the assistant to home routers.

Google, too, has been pushing hard on manufacturers for third-party integration with its own offering — though it’s not hitting Alexa-type numbers just yet. In May, the company announced that 5,000 devices supported Assistant, up from 1,500 in January.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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More Alexa ‘blueprints’ arrive, offering customizable voice apps for families and roommates

Posted by on Aug 31, 2018 in Alexa, alexa blueprints, Amazon, blueprints, children, families, kids, parents, skills, TC, voice, voice assistant | 0 comments

Earlier this year, Amazon rolled out a new feature that allowed Alexa device owners to create their own custom skills using preconfigured templates. Today, Amazon is expanding Alexa Blueprints, as the service is called, to include a handful of new templates designed for families and roommates.

These include a chore chart template, a house rules template for roommates, and others.

The Chore Chart template allows families to schedule and track children’s weekly chores, and even lets multiple kids (or anyone, really) compete to see who has done the most. Parents first configure the skill with a list of weekly chores and who those chores are assigned to.

Throughout the week, the kids can log their completed chores by asking Alexa. (“Alexa, ask Chore Chart to log a chore.”). Anyone can then check the progress by asking for the “Chore Score.”

Another blueprint is a variation on the existing “houseguest” and “babysitter” templates, which let you fill in useful information about the home, like where to find the TV remote or what the Wi-Fi password is, for example. The new “Roommate” blueprint, available now, lets you program in other information about the house, like the “house rules.”

You can have Alexa nag users to turn off the lights or run the dishwasher when they ask for the “house rules” for a given room. This passive aggressive roommate shaming system may not be the most useful – unless maybe used to poke fun – however, the template also lets you program in other important contacts, like the landlord or building manager.

The two other new blueprints are more lighthearted in nature.

One, “Whose Turn,” will have Alexa either randomly pick whose turn it is to take on a particular task – like walking the dog – or she can pick from the next name in the list, depending on how it’s configured.

Similarly, the “What To Do” skill will let Alexa make the decision when you’re stumped about what activity to do next. Alexa can pick what movie or TV show to watch from a list you configure, and can even suggest what’s for dinner, if you program in a list of favorite meals. This is also clearly intended more for parents with kids, who like to incorporate Alexa into family discussions and activities, as a third-party arbitrator of disputes, so to speak.

Many of the existing blueprints are already family-friends, like the family jokes, trivia, and stories. Amazon said in June that Alexa Skill Blueprints’ adoption has been higher than expected, when it introduced a way for people to share their custom blueprints with others.

The new blueprints are live now, bringing the total number of customizable skills to 41.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Amazon’s Echo Dot Kids Edition gains new skills from Disney and others

Posted by on Aug 20, 2018 in Alexa, Amazon, children, echo dot, family, Hardware, kids, parents, The Walt Disney Co., voice | 0 comments

Amazon is today rolling out a set of new features to its Echo Dot Kids Edition devices — the now $70 version of the Echo Dot smart speaker that ships with a protective case and a year’s subscription to Amazon FreeTime, normally a $2.99 per month subscription for Prime members. Now joining the Kids Edition’s parental controls and other exclusive content are new skills from Disney, Hotel Transylvania and Pac-Man, as well as a calming “Sleep Sounds” skill for bedtime.

There are now four new skills that play sounds of thunderstorms, rain, the ocean or a babbling brook, as well as an all-encompassing “Sleep Sounds” skill that offers 42 different soothing options from which to choose. New parents may be glad to know that this includes baby-soothing sounds like cars, trains and the vacuum (don’t knock it until you try it, folks — it works).

Amazon clarified to us that while there is a version of sleep sounds in the Skill Store today, this version launching on the Kids Edition is a different, child-directed version.

Also new to the Kids Edition is “Disney Plot Twist,” which is like a Disney version of Mad Libs, where players change out words and phrases in short adventure stories. The skill features popular Disney characters like Anna, Olaf and Kristoff as the narrators and is exclusive to Kids Edition devices.

The new movie “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” is featured in another new skill, Drac’s Pack, which includes monster stories, songs and jokes.

Meanwhile, Pac-Man Stories is a skill that includes interactive stories for the whole family that work similar to choose-your-own-adventures — that is, the decisions you make will affect the ending.

Both of these are broadly available on Alexa, meaning they don’t require a Kids Edition device to access.

Stories, however, does appear to be one of the areas Amazon is investing in to make its Alexa-powered speakers more appealing to families with young children. The company recently decided to stop working on its chat stories app Amazon Rapids, saying it will instead continue to adapt those Amazon Rapids stories for the Alexa platform.

Amazon also tries to market the Echo Dot Kids Edition to families by making some kid-friendly content, like Disney Plot Twist, available exclusively to device owners.

For example, it already offers with this device exclusive kid skills like Disney Stories, Loud House Challenge, No Way That’s True, Funny Fill In, Spongebob Challenge, Weird but True, Name that Animal, This or That, Word world, Ben ten, Classroom thirteen, Batman Adventures and Climb the Beanstalk.

But the Kids Edition can also be confusing to use, because the exclusive skills come whitelisted and ready to go, while other kid-safe skills have to be manually whitelisted through a parent’s dashboard. And there isn’t enough instruction either from Alexa or in the Alexa app on this process, at present, we found when testing the device earlier.

Unless there’s a specific exclusive skill that parents really want their kids to have, the savings are also minimal when buying the Kids Edition Dot/FreeTime bundle, versus buying a regular Dot and adding FreeTime separately.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Amazon patents a real-time accent translator

Posted by on Aug 2, 2018 in Alexa, Amazon, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, nlp, patent | 0 comments

Amazon has applied for a patent for an audio system that detects the accent of a speaker and changes it to the accent of the listener, perhaps helping eliminate communication barriers in many situations and industries. The patent doesn’t mean the company has made it (or necessarily that it will be granted), but there’s also no technical reason why it can’t do so.

The application, spotted by Patent Yogi, describes “techniques for accent translation.” Although couched in the requisite patent-ese, the method is quite clear. After a little translation of my own, here’s what it says:

In a two-party conversation, received audio is analyzed to see if it matches with one of a variety of stored accents. If so, the input audio from each party is outputted based on the accent of the other party.

It’s kind of a no-brainer, especially considering all the work that’s being done right now in natural language processing. Accents can be difficult to understand, especially if you haven’t spoken with an individual before, and especially without the critical cues from facial and body movements that make in-person communication so much more effective.

The most obvious place for an accent translator to be deployed is in support, where millions of phone calls take place regularly between people in distant countries. It’s the support person’s goal to communicate clearly and avoid adding to the caller’s worries with language barriers. Accent management is a major part of these industries; support personnel are often required to pass language and accent tests in order to advance in the organization for which they work.

A computational accent remover would not just improve their lot, but make them far more effective. Now a person with an Arabic accent can communicate just as well with just about anyone who speaks the same language — no worries if the person on the other end has heavily Austrian, Russian or Korean-accented English; if it’s English, it should work.

There are of course lots of other situations where this could be helpful — while traveling, for instance, or conducting international business. I’m sure you can think of a few situations of your own from the last few months or years where an accent reducer or translator would have been handy.

As for the actual execution of this system, that’s a big unknown. But Amazon has a huge amount of money and engineering talent dedicated to natural language processing, and there’s nothing about this system that strikes me as unrealistic or unattainable with existing technology.

It would be a machine learning model, of course, or rather a set of them, each trained on several hours of speech by people with a specific accent. Good thing Alexa has a worldwide presence! Amazon has an avalanche of audio samples coming in from Echoes and other devices all over the place, so many accents are likely already accounted for in their library. From there it’s just a matter of soliciting voice recordings from any group that’s underrepresented in that data set.

Research along these lines has certainly been done already, but Amazon seems to have the jump on others on the creation of a specific system for using that knowledge in product form.

Notably the patent allows for a bit of cheating on the system’s part: it doesn’t have to scramble during the first few seconds to identify your accent, but can stack the deck a bit by checking the device’s location, phone number, previous accents encountered on that line or, of course, simply allowing the speaker to pick their accent manually. Of course there will still be a variety within, say, a selected accent of “Pakistani,” but with enough data the system should be able to detect and accommodate those as well.

As always with patents there’s no guarantee this will actually take product form; it could just be research or a “defensive” patent intended to prevent rivals from creating a system like this in the meantime. But in this case I feel confident that there’s a real possibility a product will ship in the next year or so.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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