More on voice assistants

Here are some of the interesting tidbits I've run across lately related to voice assistants in general, and Amazon's Alexa in particular:

American Libraries Magazine - "Your Library Needs to Speak to You: Getting ahead of the voice assistant hype." Read about how some libraries are using voice assistants.
https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2019/06/03/voice-assistants-your-library-needs-to-speak-to-you/

Amazon made the news recently related to its practices for keeping users' data. Did you know that Alexa-enabled devices store user transcripts until customers delete them (and even after that in some circumstances)?
https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/amazon-alexa-privacy

AmazonEchoDotIn May, Amazon made it easier to delete some of the things you ask Alexa - “Alexa, delete everything I said today,” or “Alexa, delete what I just said.”  Other deleting options involve using the Alexa app or visiting Amazon's Device page.
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/05/how-to-delete-amazon-alexa-history.html

Amazon's Alexa AI unit is experimenting with AI to detect emotions like happiness, sadness, and anger. "Applications of the tech range from gauging reaction to video game design, marketing material like commercials, power car safety systems looking for road rage or fatigue, or even to help students using computer-aided learning..." (and hopefully won't be used to target you to buy things when you're feeling low and in need of a pick-me-up!)
https://venturebeat.com/2019/07/08/amazons-alexa-may-soon-know-if-youre-happy-or-sad/

And finally, if you'd like to take the plunge into the voice assistant world, Amazon is selling the 3rd-gen Echo Dot right now for 50% off ahead of Prime Day. You can fill your house (or library) with Echo Dots!
https://www.pcworld.com/article/3406510/amazon-is-selling-the-3rd-gen-echo-dot-for-50-off-ahead-of-prime-day.html

Making the switch to wide screen monitors

I used to have 3 monitorsAre you using a 17 or 19-inch standard (square) monitor or two standard monitors at your workstation? You might want to consider switching to a widescreen format monitor. I made the switch to a widescreen monitor several years ago and I’d like to share with you some of the benefits you might be missing.

  • With modern PCs images, movies, and games look much better on a widescreen than the standard monitor because they are capable of much higher resolutions and use an HD format vs a standard definition format.
  • If you have multiple applications open, navigating between them is much easier when you have a bigger screen.
  • Space saver…sort of. If you are using two standard monitors in a dual monitor arrangement you may find that your desk becomes much less cluttered with a single widescreen monitor.

We’ve been offering our libraries 22-inch widescreen monitors for several years and more recently 24-inch monitors. Now, in just the past month we started offering 27-inch monitors. The next time you replace PCs, take a look at the monitor too. If you are using a standard monitor check out the options available to you. Sometimes you get a discount on the monitor when it’s purchased with a PC.

 

Helpful Google

GoogleGoogle is so helpful what with its great search engine, play store and virtual assistant. I just recently learned that Google is helping in another way. Google now tracks all of the purchases that you make online. You may ask, "How does it know what I buy?" Well, Google is using all of their helpful software together to extract any data that relates to purchases. So if you get a purchase receipt emailed to your Gmail account they extract all of the purchase data from that email. If you're uncomfortable with this, there is unfortunately no option to turn it off. The only way to get your purchases off Google's purchase page is to delete the email. This doesn't really work if you want to keep a record of your purchases. So then the only option you have left is to not use Gmail when making purchases. Unfortunately in today's world everyone wants your data, especially Google.

Google Glass revisited

Remember Google Glass and how it was being marketed to consumers? Well, that really didn't take off (Thank goodness! The idea of everyone being able to record video and audio with their glasses felt a little creepy), but Google Glass is making headway in the business market. It turns out there are good uses for Google Glass there.

Google recently released a new version of the AR spectacles called "Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2." From their recent blog post:

"Workers can use Glass to access checklists, view instructions or send inspection photos or videos, and our enterprise customers have reported faster production times, improved quality, and reduced costs after using Glass."

If you have 2 1/2 minutes, check out the video and see what the future of Google Glass for the enterprise looks like.

Can you envision a way that libraries might use Google Glass?

More info:

Um, excuse me? Weaponized PDFs?

I was going to do a Tech Bits post about Carla Hayden's (Librarian of Congress!) proposal to digitize the  Library of Congress (!!!) but I ran across this other article and thought "What?!  Like with little guns and knives and stuff?"  

American Libraries linked to an April 19, 2019 article on the Nextgov website that has the title "Report: Weaponized PDFs on the rise." (sounds like an excerpt from a Terminator movie, right?) But it is no fantasy my friends, just the next generation of malware, scamming and spamming.   

So in addition to reminding your patrons, staff and coworkers about suspicious emails, ads and hyperlinks you also need to warn them about weaponized PDFs.

Welcome to the 21st century.

 

 

 

Voice Assistants

Echo-dotVoice assistants (Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc) seem to be everywhere these days. What are libraries doing with them?
 
Some libraries are loaning them to patrons or educating their users about them...
Some library staff are just starting to think about and experiment with how they might be used in libraries...
Some libraries are developing skills/actions for the devices* to make their libraries' information more accessible to patrons using the devices...

And some libraries are promoting library services that can work with the devices.

Some takeaways:
  • Voice Assistants are designed to be personal/home devices and may have some challenges being integrated into a library environment
    • library networks are designed to keep users' data private, where voice assistants would like to communicate with other devices in the area
    • how comfortable would patrons be interacting with a voice assistant in a public space?
  • This is a technology that will likely become more and more popular over time
    (Remember how the crew on Star Trek would ask the ship's computer something and it would answer?** It sure seems like that's where we're headed.)
  • Libraries' best option may be to make their content more easily accessible to these devices and to promote content and services that work with the devices at patrons' homes

Do you have a voice assistant at your house? What is your impression?
------------
* Check out libraries with Alexa skills and with Google Actions
**Amazon now allows users to change the "wake word" for its Alexa voice-enabled assistant and allows "Computer" as a wake word, to the delight of Star Trek fans: http://time.com/4645187/amazon-echo-star-trek-computer-voice/

Talk To Books - AI learning and human conversation

If you talked to books, how would they answer?

Google's new project, Talk to Books, is all about learning more about how a computer understands you when you talk to it using everyday language. 

In Talk to Books, when you type in a question or a statement, the model looks at every sentence in over 100,000 books to find the responses that would most likely come next in a conversation. The response sentence is shown in bold, along with some of the text that appeared next to the sentence for context.

You can read more about the project here and you can can try it out here: https://books.google.com/talktobooks/

Craig and I took it for a few spins. Our favorite query was "Why is Craig awesome?" Here are couple of the results that made us giggle (paying attention to the response in bold):

AwesomeCraig
Click on image to view full-size


Interested in more AI-related projects from Google?  Try Semantris.

From Google: "Semantris is a set of word association games powered by machine learning. By training on billions of conversations from the internet, the AI has learned how to predict which words, phrases and even sentences might come next in a conversation." Semantris

There are 2 versions -- Arcade (which is timed) and Blocks (which has a Tetris-y look).

Looks like computers are on well on their way to communicating effectively with us when they take over the world!

Alexa, friend or waste of time?

Alexa

I was gifted an Amazon Echo this Christmas.  When I opened it, I wasn’t that excited.  My first thought was another device I have to learn how to use and maintain.  New devices can become time consuming when you’re learning to use them and can prove to be more trouble then they’re worth.  I was skeptical I would find Alexa useful, but here are my honest first impressions. 

Madison has been nearly shut down this week thanks to the polar vortex weather.  With cabin fever in full effect, my daughter and I decided to spend some time learning about our new friend, Alexa.  The first feature we seemed to gravitate toward is getting the morning weather report simply by asking “Alexa, what is the weather forecast?”  All you have to do is set up your location in the Alexa App.  You can ask for a current forecast or a 7 day forecast.

As an amazon prime member and an avid online shopper, I was happy to learn it will automatically connect to my amazon account, allow me to verbally create lists of what I need, order it, update me on the tracking of the packages and notify me when they are delivered.  These are definitely features I will use regularly.

The main feature we had to try out in our boredom was the music feature.  At first, I was disappointed that they seem to push you to purchase Amazon Music by offering a 3 month free trial.  After a little research online, I learned that it does work with Spotify.  In December, there was an update to include Apple Music, which I currently subscribe to and is my preferred choice.  The best way to play your iTunes music is by connecting your device via Bluetooth. You can turn on your Bluetooth settings and ask Alexa to pair your device.  So far, I am able to play music I have downloaded to my phone with ease.  Searching Apple Music for new music does not appear to work.      

I am excited to see what else Alexa has to offer me in terms of to do lists and other organizational tools.  As a working mom, I’m always looking for help in that area.  There are so many features to discover and so many articles on how to best use them.  I am now much more excited to explore Alexa further.  Are there any features you have found useful?  Please share them in the comments.    

Who's listening? Who has access?

IoTThe shopping season is underway! The ACLU's article "The Privacy Threat From Always-On Microphones Like the Amazon Echo" about the privacy implications of “always-on” recording devices came across my path yesterday, and it got me thinking and looking for a good video or two that would highlight some of the current concerns about "smart," internet-connected devices. I found these two, which I think are definitely worth a view.

(9 min) "What your smart devices know (and share) about you"Once your smart devices can talk to you, who else are they talking to? Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu wanted to find out -- so they outfitted Hill's apartment with 18 different internet-connected devices and built a special router to track how often they contacted their servers and see what they were reporting back. The results were surprising -- and more than a little bit creepy. Learn more about what the data from your smart devices reveals about your sleep schedule, TV binges and even your tooth-brushing habits -- and how tech companies could use it to target and profile you. (This talk contains mature language.)

(17 min) "Internet of Things Security"Ken Munro shows us how insecure Internet of Things products are and how easy it is to hack them. The big question is: how can we use these products in a safe way?

The takeaway for me from the videos was not that IoT devices = BAD, but that users of these devices should be aware of the privacy and security implications. If you are considering purchasing devices that connect to the internet (and there are a lot of them these days!), make sure you know what you're getting into and weigh the potential loss of privacy (and security risks) with the benefit these devices will bring to your home.

And if you opt for smart devices, here are some of the security recommendations from the second video:

  • use long, STRONG passwords
  • use PINs that are longer than 4 digits on smart phones 
  • apply patches and updates to your devices
  • don't buy products for which you're not sure about the privacy or security

I'm still looking for some good articles about IoT devices and their uses in libraries. So far I've found a couple that talk about the potential (people counting, program attendance, etc), but none that really weigh in on what patron privacy concerns there may be. (If you have any recommendations, please let me know!)

What internet-connected smart devices have you added to your home? Your library? What do you love or hate about them?

Library of Congress Crowdsourcing Transcription Project

LOCCrowdThe Library of Congress (LOC) recently launched a new transcription initiative and they are looking for help - from you and your community. The project is called Crowd and the LOC is using the power of crowdsourcing to improve access to their digitized collection of primary sources.

The five collections or campaigns that volunteers can help with are Clara Barton: "Angel of the Battlefield," Letters to Lincoln, Civil War Soldiers: Disabled but not disheartened," Branch Rickey: Changing the Game, and Mary Church Terrell: Advocate for African Americans and Women.

When I looked today (November 1), the Diaries and Journals, 1849 for Clara Barton are almost complete and the project is only a week old! The transcriptions are all made and reviewed by volunteers before being returned to the Library's catalog.

While I didn't try my hand at transcription, I did capture an image of what the transcription page looks like. If you're good at LOCCrowd2jpgdeciphering handwriting and want to help make these important resources more accessible to everyone, I encourage you to join in. Volunteers can register for an account that allows you to tag items and review transcriptions. An account is not needed to transcribe documents.

The LOC is very encouraging, too. In the transcription window, it says "Go ahead, start typing. You got this!" Now to find the time to help...

I first saw this project in the October 19 issue of AL Direct and forgot about it until today. Thanks to Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers for reminding me of this project (and giving me a topic to write about!)