Month: July 2018

Flash briefing 42 – The promise of voice first for the visually or physically impaired

My family has a history with blindness or almost blindness. My uncle has been fighting a disease that he knows is gonna left him blind, soon. One of my best friend is blind. Of all our technological advantages to date, none of them have been particularly helpful for blind or physically impaired. Navigating internet today for my uncle or my friend is a daunting task. Booking flights, a relatively easy task for you or me, is a long process of calls with operators for them. Now imagine how voice applications can change that.

It maybe possible that interaction with Alexa, a machine pretending to be human—especially after missing the evolution of personal computing can be a daunting situation. But every other supposedly obvious technical interface has proved to require some prior knowledge or familiarity. People had to be trained to operate a mouse, for example; direct control of a cursor was awkward until it became habitual. The touch screen built on the mouse, replacing the pointer with the finger. Its accompanying gestures—flicking through a feed or pinch-zooming a map or swiping right on a love interest—have come to feel like second nature. But none of them are actually natural.

Voice assistants appear to bypass that legacy, offering hands-free operation and new accessibility for those with limited mobility or dexterity. Yet they still require expertise. The way most of us talk to the devices has been shaped by our interaction with web and mobile search, making it  query-like. For a person that didn’t live through that at all, it’s foreign language.

Computers and mobile phones are so ubiquitous now, that a life without them is a little more painful and certainly, for professional development, hindering. The smart assistants might seem for some unnecessary, for others a glorified QA speaker, but for those that do not have easy access to texting or web browsing is not only a answering tool but a facilitator. It allow them to communicate in a modern way and connect with people. To live fully means more than sensing with the eyes and ears—it also means engaging with the technologies of the moment, and seeing the world through the triumphs and failures they uniquely offer.

This episode was inspired by a story appeared in The Atlantic about a son recounting his father interaction with Alexa, you can find it in this episode notes at

Thank you for listening!

This post was inspired by the article appeared in the At

Flash briefing 41 – The next big thing in voice – a rant

In May at VoiceCon, after the closing cocktail reception, the comments I heard the most was, this wasn’t totally new. Most of what I heard today I already was aware, as we have been following the technology for a while now. Every now and then on Twitter, Facebook groups of voice applications, this comment pops up, but it’s that the next big thing, is voice in real state/medicine/travel? People asking for examples of really successful skills or actions, investors asking for voice apps with engagement to put their monies on.   

There’s always new stuff out there, and most of it’s not very good. Rather than looking for the next musing, it’s probably better to be thorough about what we know is true and make sure we do that well. Our brain has a weakness for novelty. We thrive when we look at something new, curious, extraordinary. But we can not have amusement all the time. We need to do the ordinary in order to get to the extraordinary. This time in voice is time of creation. Engagement is low still for the vast majority of voice skills and actions. The weather might be the most used voice application so far. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be looking for the next thing and be aware of new services, but this time is the time to build your dreams in voice. I have been saying this repeatedly and it will become my motto for the rest of the year. This is the time to experiment. Go and experiment, hire that agency and build your conversational presence for your company or service. The voice strategy that you plan today it’s gonna give its results, true results in at least a span of two years. For instance, according to several informal posts on twitter and surveys, people do not listen to Alexa flash briefings that often or that many. Does that means that you shouldn’t have a flash briefing? No, we certainly have one, and when you have content you can just repurpose it to voice and be present, but be cognizant that the audience it’s just not there yet, and also have the same content in other audio and podcast platforms. Bottom line is, instead of focusing on the next big thing in voice, go and build your thing, play and understand where the audience is, and where is likely gonna be in the next 12 months.

Thank you for listening

Flash briefing 40 – Voice for learning

Amazon and Microsoft called the assistants apps skills. And there’s a reason for it, the assistant is supposed to learn from the skills, be enhanced by them. Can smart speakers enhance learning and education? At Arizona State University (ASU) this fall, 1,600 Amazon Echo Dots were distributed among engineering students in the school’s Tooker House — a residence hall on campus. Students at ASU are primarily using the Echo Dots as a tool for campus connection.
“Alexa, what’s happening on campus this week?” “Alexa, where is the science building?” “Alexa, when is my next Calculus exam?”
The students at ASU also found a practical application for the devices in the residence halls, proposing a skill for Alexa that could identify how many washing machines are available in the laundry rooms.
Educators from higher ed powerhouses like Arizona State University to small charter schools like New Mexico’s Taos Academy are experimenting with Amazon Echo, Google Home or Microsoft Invoke and discovering new ways this technology can create a more efficient and creative learning environment.
The devices are being used to help students with and without disabilities gain a new sense for digital fluency, find library materials more quickly and even promote events on college campuses for greater social connection.
These applications are very practical but the next challenge for voice in edtech is finding a way to more thoroughly integrate Alexa/Google Assistant/smart assistants into the school’s curriculum.
Some professors are already experimenting with machine learning as a new type of virtual “assistant.” In early 2016, Ashok Goel, a Georgia Tech computer science professor, deployed IBM’s Watson platform to answer routine questions posed by students. Goel revealed the assistant’s “identity” at the end of the semester, and students were surprised to learn that a machine had been answering their questions.
Using machine learning for routine tasks — so instructors can spend more time on complex teaching activities — is one of the primary applications that educational technologists foresee in higher education.
How education can be transformed by intelligent assistant by providing context aware, personalized learning is a task to see, and it’s the dream of every educator. Imagine the possibilities for learning when each student could have a teaching assistant tailored to his learning needs. This is the new education revolution that Kevin Robinson and my mom dreams.
Thanks for listening!

Flash briefing 39 – Other smart assistants in the market besides Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple

Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby, Cortana are not the only smart speakers, they all have something in common: created and baked by a big company. But they are not the only assistants in the market.
As conversational computing becomes more widely available, assistants that offer a different sort of vision of the future are emerging, offering counter-narratives and different technological approaches.
That’s why startups like Snips, which is bringing its own smart speaker to market, center their attention on one primary differentiator: privacy. “My goal is to destroy Alexa by providing a platform that is the exact opposite, that people are going to enjoy building on top of If you really want to distinguish yourself from Alexa or Google, you have to do something that’s radically different. My job is not to catch up to Alexa. My job is to offer something that’s so different that people effectively don’t even compare — that’s my objective. is another intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator for Linux-based operating systems that uses a natural language user interface. Mycroft is a free, open-source and It is said to be the world’s first fully open-source AI voice assistant.
This startups are tapping into the surveillance fear that people have of all the information hosted in the cloud that can be targets for hacking. Regardless of whether smart speaker conspiracy theories are true, they’re having an effect. According to several studies, outlined in the show notes, one of the main reasons people have said for not having a smart assistant is privacy concerns. Also in the assistant alternatives is SoundHound which raised 100 million in May. In the car, where Google is pushing Assistant in Android Auto and Amazon is installing Alexa in cars from Toyota and Ford, SoundHound is pitching its assistant and Hound platform as an alternative that lets brands deploy conversational AI without the need to say “Alexa” or “OK, Google.” SoundHound does not present itself as a better choice based on privacy, but just like more recognizable AI assistants, alternatives like SoundHound and Snips are competing to make their assistants available in a broad range of devices found in the home or workplace.
We can not tell if Snips or Mycroft will survive or be eaten by the big ones in the conversational AI space, but for sure the alternative it’s appealing. We’ll be here to continue bringing you all the latest on it. My opinion is that convenience will win, always.
Thank you for listening.

Some content taken from this Venture Beat piece.

Flash briefing 38 – In the road to Voice Summit

Really just to wish you a happy Sunday and a productive week, we are today on the road to the Voice Summit in Newark, very excited, I’m anticipating this to be an awesome conference.