Browse Author: Anurag Shukla

Virtual Assistant

A virtual assistant is a software agent that can perform tasks or services for an individual. Sometimes the term “chatbot” is used to refer to virtual assistants generally or specifically those accessed by online chat (or in some cases online chat programs that are for entertainment and not useful purposes).

As of 2017, the capabilities and usage of virtual assistants is expanding rapidly, with new products entering the market. An online poll in May 2017 found the most widely used in the US were Apple’s Siri (34%), Google Assistant (19%), Amazon Alexa (6%), and Microsoft Cortana(4%). Facebook’s M is expected to be available to hundreds of millions on Facebook Messenger in 2017.

 

Cortana

Cortana is an operating system-oriented voice assistant available on Windows 10 devices, as well as the Xbox One console. Cortana is closely connected to productivity, but can also help answer more general questions by pulling information from Bing.

The Cortana VA has seen a lot of recent growth, expanding her use throughout Windows 10 and related services. Combined with newer offerings like Surface Studio, its clear Microsoft favors Cortana as an OS-based service to control Windows 10 while one is working.

While user can store specific bits of information with Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant is constantly analyzing user’s interactions to learn more about him/her. This info is stored in something Microsoft calls the “Notebook,” which includes the places user likes to go, people he/she care about, user’s preferred quiet hours, and things he/she might be interested in, among other things. User can even edit it if he like.

Cortana can user’s emails, track user’s location, watch user’s browsing history, check user’s contact list, keep an eye on user’s calendar, and put all this data together to suggest useful info, if user allow it to. Cortana is designed to recognize context, so it should be able to understand follow-up requests, and you can phrase things in different ways and still expect a useful answer. User can also type his/her questions or requests, if you prefer to not speak out loud.

The latest changes from the Windows 10 Creators Update allow Cortana to help in the setup process for new computers, and include a new full screen mode for Cortana that serves as both a screensaver and voice-assistant focused mode when user is away from the computer—or is too far away to type. Cortana can also handle music and reminder commands more effectively, spanning multiple music apps and controlling volume as user desire.

 

Siri

Siri has been an integral part of iOS since the launch of iOS 5 in 2011. It started with the basics such as weather and messaging, but has expanded greatly since then to support more third-party integration with MacOS.

While Siri’s jokes are legendary, the virtual assistant is getting more capable every day. Now, user can ask it to call people, send messages, schedule meetings, launch apps and games, play music, answer questions, set reminders, and provide weather forecasts.

Siri can also integrate with third-party apps and understand follow-up queries. That’s a big change in strategy for Apple, which typically maintains a tight grip on which third-party companies get access to its native functions.

Siri is probably the most familiar of all the voice assistants. It also lags behind the other VAs when it comes to text input, which isn’t supported for most Siri functions. Apple appears to be using Siri for voice controls and Spotlight for similar text-based queries.

The latest news for Siri includes voice compatibility for WhatsApp, expanded payment options for Lyft and Uber, and the ability to look up international cricket scores. These are minor tweaks compared to the changes other VAs are going through, but they also point to Siri’s continued stability—particularly for long-term iOS users who already know the voice assistant well.

 

Google Assistant

Google Assistant (which has incorporated functions from the older Google Now, as Now is being phased out) is different from Cortana and Siri. It has less personality, but more functionality. While it is an integral part of Android, Google Assistant also lives in an iOS app, and can be accessed through the Chrome browser as needed.

Like Cortana and Siri, you can ask Assistant for directions to the closest Chinese restaurant, or what the weather looks like for the next 10 days. If you let it, Google’s software will utilize your search history and customize its responses based on what it knows about your queries.

Google’s integration with its search engine makes Google Assistant one of the most useful virtual assistants out of the box. It already has a treasure trove of data on what you’ve done on the web. It also reacts to questions in a similar way to the Google browser, which makes it great for general information and trivia.

 

Alexa

It is Amazon’s voice assistant and it isn’t focused on mobile or computer purposes, but rather for the standalone Amazon Echo speaker and a limited number of Amazon Fire devices, with a greater concentration on whole-house management and services rather than computer-oriented tasks.

Obviously, this limits Alexa compared to the alternatives. However, there are some advantages to the Amazon approach. Like Assistant, Alexa is highly conversational, and its ability to parse meaning is frequently excellent, whether you’re asking about the weather or listening to the latest news summaries from around the web. Alexa is meant to be used out in the open, away from the computer, while you’re working elsewhere but still need information, entertainment, or purchases.

The customization and management options for Alexa also impress. While other voice assistants hide many of their capabilities away from users, Alexa brings them all out in the form of “skills” and connections. The Alexa app allows you to add various mini-apps in the form of skills, and adjust current services and settings using these skills. It’s a great system, especially for those who like to tinker, but it does require learning a new approach to VA management.

Amazon is also doing a lot of work to bring Alexa into more mobile situations: The Alexa app, for example, brings many of its capabilities to your phone so you can organize lists while driving or control smart home features away from an Echo.

 

 

Bixby

Not to be outdone in the voice assistant game, Samsung has also created a mobile device assistant called Bixby, which now has full voice command compatibility (if you’ve picked up a Galaxy S8, you’ve probably encountered it). In general, Bixby shares a lot in common with Cortana. The VA lingers on the Galaxy phone, ready to access information and manage your data, schedule, events, and more. It doesn’t venture out into the Internet of Things much, but it does have an impressive amount of control over everything you do on your Samsung device.

You can divide Bixby into three basic different categories of abilities—Voice, Home, and Vision. They all work together, but use different Bixby abilities:

Voice includes both questions—”What’s the weather today?”—and commands. Start by saying “Hey Bixby” and you can get general information or facts. However, like Cortana, Bixby also excels at operating software, so you can also use it to control the Galaxy menus, change settings, set reminders, take pictures, edit video, and much, much more. If you’ve ever wanted to operate your smartphone hands free, there’s a lot to explore here. Some functionality goes even deeper – you can ask Bixby to read out your latest emails, or tell it to post your photo to Instagram, and Bixby will do so.

Home is the app face of Bixby, a screen that provides information based on what you have asked Bixby about in the past, as well as the different services that Bixby can control with the right compatibility—Including Facebook, CNN, and Spotify. In the future this area may include smart home capabilities (Samsung says it’s on the way), but for now it’s relegated to basic online services.

Vision is the most unique part of Bixby, as it can analyze what image the camera is picking up and give you a report on it. When this works (say, looking at a recognizable logo) Bixby can help you instantly compare online prices to in-store prices, or give you more information about local landmarks. If this feature takes off, other voice assistants may start getting jealous.

 

 

Geofencing

Geofencing is the use of GPS or RFID technology to create a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a mobile device enters or leaves a particular area. The use of Geofence is called Geofencing.

It requires Location aware device of a location-based service (LBS) user entering or exiting a geo-fence. This activity could trigger an alert to the device’s user as well as messaging to the geo-fence operator. This info, which could contain the location of the device, could be sent to a mobile telephone or an email account.

The technology has many practical usages-

  1. Network logs can record geo-fence crossings to document the proper use of devices and their compliance with established policies.
  2. An ankle bracelet can alert authorities if an individual under house arrest leaves the premises.
  3. When the home owner’s Smartphone leaves the home’s geo-fenced perimeter, the thermostat lowers itself to a pre-defined temperature.
  4. A network administrator can set up alerts so when a hospital-owned iPad leaves the hospital grounds, the administrator can monitor the device’s location and lock it down to prevent it from being used.
  5. An employee’s smart card will send an alert to security if the employee attempts to enter an unauthorized, geo-fenced area.
  6. A sporting event can use geo-fencing to create a temporary no-fly zone that prevents drones from crossing a defined perimeter.
  7. Geo-fencing can alert a dispatcher when a truck driver breaks from his route.
  8. Small businesses can text an opt-in customer a coupon code when the customer’s Smartphone enters a defined geographical area.
  9. An ankle bracelet can alert authorities if an individual under house arrest leaves the premises.
  10. An airline app can define a Geofence around an airport when a flight reservation is near boarding time. When the device crosses the Geofence, the app can send a notification that takes users to an activity that allows them to get their boarding pass.

 

Reading Mind Technology

mind-control

Reading Mind Technology

What if Mind reading turns out to be a reality then days are not too far when our Smartphone will not of any use. Because then people would be able to connect with others through their minds. It is not fake but reality that many scientists have been working towards decoding the mind and thoughts of human.

Researchers and scientists have already achieved the success in understanding the Physical structure and chemical workings of the brain and now they are after solving the mysteries to understand the intent of the human, what people dream about and what makes them psychopath. I would like to throw some light on the kind of researches and inventions that have been done past years which are contributing towards decoding the mind and thoughts.

 

Researchers from University of California, Berkley have invented a Brain Decoder Device. This brain decoder device is able to analyze what you are thinking based on neuron activity inside the brain. Researchers have invited the tests subjects to read a passage of text out loud and then reading the same passage in their mind and then they compared the brain activity to look for the linked patterns.  If the technique gets further improvised then it can become boon for those who have lost their ability to speak.  And with the power of mind working wonders, we will be able to control the devices such as Smartphone, computers and other devices with our mind. “If you’re reading text in a newspaper or a book, you hear a voice in your own head,” the University’s Brian Pasley told New Scientist. “We’re trying to decode the brain activity related to that voice to create a medical prosthesis that can allow someone who is paralyzed or locked in to speak.” Pasley and his team based their work around the hypothesis that hearing words in our head causes the same kind of brain activity as hearing them spoken. The sophisticated hardware is under developmental stage and requires being more accurate so it can be utilized out of the lab. The subject is observed carefully and algorithms underpinning the system vary from person to person.

Even Japanese researchers are not behind in evolving this technology. They have developed the mind reading device as well that decipher words from brainwaves without them being spoken. They were able to identify the words such as ‘goo’, ‘scissors’ and ‘par’ when spoken in Japanese. They can identify the brain waves related with syllables or letters hence ensuring the possibility of decoding entire words and sentences without the need for any of them being physically spoken. Researchers used a method to listen to the unspoken word called Electroencephalogram or EEG. The technology records the electrical activity from the brain using an array of electrodes on the scalp to detect the brain waves. The team focused on a part of the brain known as Broca’s area, which is thought to be involved in language processing and speech. Lead author Professor Yamazaki Toshimasa, an expert in brain computer interfaces at Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture, and his team asked 12 men, women and children to recite a series of words, measuring their brainwaves as they did so. They found each syllable produced a distinct brain wave activity from the initial thought to the actual utterance. Activity could be seen up to two seconds before a word was spoken. By compiling a database of different sounds, the researchers found it is possible to match these brainwave patterns to words, even if they are not spoken.

Not only this, scientists are developing the technique to control the channels on your TV. For this, they are developing headsets that can read your brainwaves to change the channels.

Researchers from Birmingham University have devised a way to verify the person’s identity 2 years ago. The researchers observed the brain signals of 45 volunteers as they read a list of 75 acronyms, such as FBI and DVD, and recorded the brain’s reaction to each group of letters, focusing on the part of the brain associated with reading and recognizing words. Turns out, participants’ brains reacted differently to each acronym — so much so that a computer system was able to identify each volunteer with 94 percent accuracy.

Yukiyasu Kamitani and his team at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, have been able to identify what subjects were dreaming about. They use fMRI (functional MRI), which measures brain activity by picking up on the magnetic properties of hemoglobin that vary with blood oxygenation. Scientists have made some startling breakthroughs in reproducing our thoughts on a screen and delving into what motivates us to do the things we do. The subjects are put into fMRI machine and woken up just as they were drifting off. They then reported what they had been dreaming about. A database was created from the information, and using machine-learning algorithm and a visual-imagery decoder, scientists were able to identify what the subjects were dreaming about in subsequent scans.

Can you imagine that your imagination can also be traced on the screen? Participants imagine forming letters and recorded the patterns of their brains made while they did it. Researchers used this information along with the algorithms and translated it into Pixels thus they were able to reconstruct the actual images of the Participants imagination.

fMRI technology has even enabled researchers to understand the People’s reaction towards the specific products without even their need of uttering the words. The company uses fMRI to assess their feelings about products, packaging, advertising, and even smell.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding an initiative where they can hack the mind of the veterans and service members and help them in treating their mental illness and addictions.

Since reading mind is taking a shape of reality, there are few things that we should consider from right now and even start researching on it. It is security of your thoughts, your imagination. In the near future, we may have to find the potential way to secure our mind from unwanted access to information that we have in our mind. I do not blame on technology as it has many advantages if used in proper way but I can blame those users who can misuse it. The technologies like fMRI enable the researchers to understand patterns of prefrontal cortex activity before they took the action, were able to decode what they were about to do. That means in future someone can understand our intent even before we perform any action. It will more become spying on our secret thoughts and our thoughts will no longer be private. Our mind is full of innovative ideas and one would never want that someone hack or decode those ideas for their own benefit.

I think it’s a high time that techies & researchers must also start thinking about solution that can secure our valuable mind against misuse of such technologies.

My Business Trip To Dubai

Boarding On Flight

It was 11th  of October, a day on which I headed for a Business trip to Dubai along with my company’s Director Nishant Bamb. We were doing a project for 40 years old reputed organization of Middle East which is headquartered at Dubai. Nishant has been to Dubai many times for projects. Business trips have their own adventures & excitement. My super excitement cost me Rs 150/- for an Auto Rickshaw which I hired 1 mile away from the Airport. I guess, it would have cost me Rs 50/- only. Terminal 4 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is awesome. I boarded on flight. It was Emirates Airways. The Flight experience was good and comfortable. I watched full movie of Transformers: Age of Extinction on Flight.

 

On Reaching Dubai….

We reached Dubai and guess what? While checking out from the Airport, we saw Yuvraj Singh. He was sitting alone unnoticed at the corner waiting to pick up his luggage. This would not have been the case if he was in India. He would have been surrounded by people for his autograph & his photograph as we all know he is a well known cricketer. Atlast,  an Indian couple approached him and as usual these days they started taking selfies with him. Finally we went via metro from Airport to reach our destined Hotel Royal Falcon, located at Salahuddin Metro Station. One thing was good that our Hotel was just in front of the Salahuddin Metro Station . The moment we came out of metro, we felt sudden change in the temperature. It was hot outside at 7:30 pm in the evening. It was Saturday, holiday and remaining day was meant for the rest. The next day was Sunday obviously and guess what, Sunday was the working day. Sunday is usually a working day in Dubai. They have holidays on Friday and Saturday in a week. Well that was kind of awkward to me because right from my schooldays, I have been adapted to consider Sundays as a permanent holiday unless you are working in a 24*7 working environment for a company. I was under this thought process while taking a short walk to hotel which was few steps away.

 

People, place and environment

We entered the Hotel, finished few formalities and led to room. It was nice and comfy. My watch was not adjusted to Dubai’s time. Clock on the room was showing 8:00 pm but my watch was showing Indian time 9:30 pm. So I readjusted my watch and settled myself in the room. After half an hour of rest, we were ready for a quick tour of in and around. We went outside and saw a grocery shop across the road. The agenda was to do some quick shopping for ourselves and buy necessary things that will be required during entire course of our stay. So we took a bridge to cross the road. This was the time I was getting to know the people, place and environment and had a quite glimpse of infrastructure of the city. The city was well organized. Speedy cars were running on the roads. In the middle of the Bridge, Nishant stopped and told me to look towards my right. I moved towards indicated direction and what I saw was quite splendid to see. I saw a huge and very tall building that was quite distant from where we were standing. It was an amazing view. The whole infrastructure was glittering in the night. I was gazing at it with my eyes wide opened. Nishant told me its Burj Khalifa and its few kilometers away from here. It was wow kind of experience from the Bridge and I was sure it will become more awesome experience when I will get there. After few moments of gazing, we headed for the Grocery store to purchase few items. Up till now I had a somewhat idea about the population of Dubai from what I experienced on Metro, Airport and people on streets. Along with local people, the population over here also constitutes Indonesians, Malaysians, Chinese (they all look same :P) , Indians, Pakistanis etc. After shopping, we went back to our room. Preparing myself mentally to work on Sunday, I lay down on the bed and slept.

First Working Day….

Next day, I woke up at 6:30 am in morning and got fresh, had morning prayers and got ready for the office. We had breakfast and then headed for the client’s site. This became regular morning exercise for me during my entire stay in Dubai. On first day, we took a cab to reach the client’s office and afterwards we usually preferred to go by metro which almost took 8 Dirham for to & fro journey. Client’s office was located in Business Bay. World Trade center, financial center, Dubai Mall was the places that were en route to the Business Bay. Around these areas, you will find huge buildings with impressive work of construction and Architecture. During my entire trip, I saw only SUV, LUV, sports car and sports bike on the roads. Even Delivery boys ride those bikes which are high end bikes in India. I will not take name those bike models to spoil your mood as many of us own those bikes. Our office timings were 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. It never felt like Sunday that day as everyone around you was on way to its work and I was assuming it to be Monday.

So we reached client’s office. As a Project Manager, my task was to address the concerns of the client related with app and implement changes. I & Nishant were coordinating with our development team in India as our ultimate aim was to deliver the quality app before its launch. On first working day, we had discussion with many senior and experienced officials of the company from diverse domains. Everyone had feedback of its own and points to contribute that can make the project success. It was cross cultural organization. People from different countries were working in this organization with varied expertise in their respective fields. People were friendly. The whole office environment was good and friendly and I was fortunate to work among the skilled and experienced professionals. During course of our stay, we befriended with a Machine. It was a coffee machine that will offer you various flavors of coffee, any time you want. I put on weight because of it.

Regular working schedule

On some days I worked till 4:00 pm and on some days overworked even after 4:00 pm in the office or from our Hotel room after the office. I used to send daily issue reports to the developers in India so they can be resolved immediately next morning and we have fresh updates for the app before lunch. In the end, our team efforts were paid well with the success of the project. Application is live and running successfully till now. It was a learning onsite experience. I got to learn to manage the project onsite, handling team despite difference in time zones and making the update ready on time.

After work…

So whenever I and Nishant got free from work on time, we visited malls and different places. It was fun. We used to take a walk from office to Business Bay metro station while returning. Evenings were really awesome. You get to see lot of sparkling buildings and the only point of attraction among them was Burj Khalifa which I never missed to watch it whenever taking walk. It is an example set up by humanity that nothing is impossible. One can reach whatever heights that one wants to reach.

Business Bay   View of Burj Khalifa from Business Bay

Shopping Malls

The nearest destination was Dubai mall which was at the walking distance from the business bay. You just have to take a diversion inside Business Bay Metro station and take Moving Walkways to reach Dubai Mall. Dubai Mall is exactly the place where Burj Khalifa is located. Once you enter the Dubai Mall, you will find outlets of all premium & luxury Brands around the world. It is an awesome place to hang around. It had huge Aquarium with Sharks and crocodile in it, artificial waterfall, place for Ice Skate and Musical fountains. Other Malls like Mall of Emirates, Deira City center are more or less same and they are spread on a huge space. People get to see a lot. All of this makes Dubai an ultimate shopping destination in the world.

Aquarium

Burj Khalifa….

Inside Dubai Mall, besides musical fountain you will find the Pride of Dubai, the Burj Khalifa. It was an awe-inspiring experience. It looks beautiful in the evening. I could not wait to take a snapshot of it. I was even more curious to know the way it will look during the day and what will be an amazing view from the top, I could not imagine.

Musical Fountain & Burj Khalifa     DSC_0053

Last Day…

So I planned another visit to this place on the last day of my trip. It was Friday, holiday in Dubai. I planned that I would visit at the Top of Burj Khalifa and Palm Jumeira. I started in the morning and reached Dubai Mall. It is a kind of feeling that if people cannot get a chance to measure the Mount Everest, they should measure this building. Atleast, they will be at peace.

Day visit to Burj Khalifa

So I reached Dubai Mall towards the outlet where I can go for booking to reach at the Top. But Alas! All slots were unavailable. The only slot available was at 10:00 pm in the evening. It was impossible for me to go for that time slot as at the very same time I had to check out from the hotel and leave for the Airport. Disheartened by this, I decided to move on because I did not want to miss my visit to other places.

I left Dubai Mall and reached Internet city via Metro. From there I took Mono Rail to reach Palm Jumeirah. It is a kind of Island in the shape of palm. You will find beautiful residences and offices here and definitely expensive. On reaching Palm Jumeirah Islands, I saw a resplendent view of beach. It was Arabian Sea. The Ocean was blue and so calm.

Palm Beach

I spent somewhere around 1.5 hours over here and then visited Atlantis. You will even find its references one of the Bollywood movies, Happy New Year. In the end I left for the Hotel as we had check out by 10:00 pm.

Atlantis DSC_0191

I could not cover all the places but maybe next time and would never miss to reach the Top of Burj Khalifa. It was learning onsite work experience and memorable tour. I am thankful to Nishant and Ankita who provided this onsite opportunity to me. Hope to get more and more onsite opportunities in future.

 

Anurag

 

 


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