R . Venkatesh, a roving consultant from Delhi, has suddenly become acutely aware of the “listening powers” of his smartphone. Earlier this month, he ganged up with a couple of college friends over drinks. Among other things, they reminisced about their large cassette collections languishing at the back of some forgotten cupboard.
One of his friends mentioned hearing about a device to convert tapes to an MP3 format. The next day Venkatesh was “spooked out” when he began receiving advertisements of software to convert tapes to MP3 in his social media feed. He distinctly recalls not searching for any such product online.
What Venkatesh did not know is that his phone can eavesdrop on his conversations since virtual assistants such as Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana and Samsung Bixby reside in smartphones, tablets and laptops, and even in stationary devices like Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speakers.
People typically use artificial intelligence (AI)-powered virtual assistants and voice AI-enabled devices including smart speakers to turn music on and off, check weather forecasts, adjust the room temperature and order goods online among other things.
These AI assistants simply convert the voice commands to text, similar to what a computer does when you type keywords or sentences, and interpret what the user means using natural language processing technology. They get better and better as you provide more voice inputs (read more data on which the algorithm trains itself), which also helps them understand your accent.
However, these smart assistants can do much more. According to a 10 May report in The New York Times (NYT), researchers can now send secret audio instructions to Siri, Alexa and Assistant, which humans can’t hear. According to the report, some Berkeley university researchers said they could embed commands directly into recordings of music or spoken text. “So while a human listener hears someone talking or an orchestra playing, Amazon’s Echo speaker might hear an instruction to add something to your shopping list,” said the NYT report.
Further, Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. have filed separate patent applications for a number of technologies that could potentially jeopardize the privacy of consumers.
These include a system for deriving sentiments and behaviours from ambient speech, even when a user has not addressed the device with its “wake word”; multiple systems to identify speakers in a conversation and build profiles from these; a system to recommend products based on furnishings observed by a smart home security camera; a methodology for “inferring child mischief” using audio and movement sensors; and systems to insert paid content, according to a December 2017 report by Consumer Watchdog.
“While Amazon and Google may be focused on the commercial implications of their inventions, these technologies also have troubling legal and ethical implications,” notes the report.
Moreover, researchers caution that even headphones and earphones, which are physically built like microphones, can be misused by hackers. Further, software can render a PC, even one without microphones, into an eavesdropping device, say researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Cyber Security Research Centre.
Besides using antivirus programmes to reduce risks of security and data leaks, online security firm Kaspersky recommends that users should also turn off the microphone on Amazon Echo and Google speakers. “There’s a button. It’s not a particularly convenient way to ensure privacy—you will always have to remember to neutralize the assistant—but at least it’s something,” says a 28 February 2017 blog by the firm.
Kaspersky further suggests the use of Echo’s account settings to prohibit or password-protect purchasing. While these may not be foolproof measures, they may provide a start to users like Venkatesh.
Bose Frames AR Audio Sunglasses Launched in India, Priced at Rs. 21,900
Over a year after originally showcasing its audio AR sunglasses, Bose is bringing them to the Indian market. The company on Thursday announced that the sunglasses, which are simply known as Bose Frames, will go on sale beginning next week in the country alongside Bose Frames Lens Collection. The Bose Frames combine three functionalities into one device – premium sunglasses, wireless headphones, and audio AR features. The Bose Frames are the company’s first product to be based on the company’s AR platform.
The Bose Frames carry a price tag of Rs. 21,900 and will be offered in two universal styles – the larger Alto and the smaller Rondo. The Bose Frames Lens Collection of non-polarised and polarised lenses will retail at Rs. 1,990 and Rs. 2,990, respectively. The sales open June 20 via select resellers and Bose stores in the country.
The Bose Frames are essentially a pair of sunglasses that pack a tiny Bose audio system in the temples. This audio system effectively turns them into a wireless pair of headphones. The Bose Frames also include a microphone and multi-function button on the right temple for power and pairing, Siri and Google Assistant, calls and commands, or to pause and skip songs.
“With a proprietary open-ear design, they [Bose Frames] take micro-acoustics, voice control, and personal audio to an entirely new level, so users can stream music and information, take and make calls, and access virtual assistants from — while keeping playlists, entertainment, and conversations private,” Bose said in a statement.
Like many wearable devices, the Bose Frames act as a companion device to your smartphone and need the same for processing the information and connecting to the Web.
As we mentioned earlier, the Bose Frames will be released in two designs – Alto and Rondo. Alto is square and angled, whereas Rondo is round and smaller. Both can block up to 99 percent of UVA/UVB rays and weigh just 45 grams. The lenses can be easily popped out and replaced.
Apart from the audio capabilities, the Frames are also compatible with Bose’s AR platform. The Bose Frames don’t include any visual AR capabilities, but they can provide audio AR input to enhance your experience.
“[Bose Frames] knows where you are and what you’re facing using a 9-axis head motion sensor and the GPS from your iOS or Android device — and automatically adds a layer of audio through Bose AR apps, connecting that place and time to endless possibilities for travel, learning, entertainment, gaming, and more,” Bose explained.
Bose AR apps can be downloaded using Bose Connect app and are only available for iOS right now. Android apps are being developed, according to the company’s website.
The company claims that onboard battery can last up to 3.5 hours for playback and up to 12 hours on standby. It can be fully recharged in less than two hours.
Novel device can quickly detect strokes
Scientists have developed a device that can monitor blood flow and help quickly diagnose and treat strokes.
A stroke, one of the leading causes of death worldwide, occurs due to poor blood flow to the brain — a condition known as cerebral ischemia.
Its diagnosis must be done within the first few hours for treatment to be effective, researchers said.
The hybrid device, developed by researchers at the China Academy of Engineering Physics and Army Medical University in China, relies on a combination of to light measuring techniques which could diagnose cerebral ischemia non-invasively and faster than the techniques used currently.
“We can measure blood volume, blood oxygenation and blood flow using suitable near-infrared techniques,” said Liguo Zhu, from China Academy of Engineering Physics.
Zhu said that “near-infrared light penetrates one to three centimetres and allows researchers to probe under the skin.”
The working of the instrument relies on the combination of the near-infrared diffuse optical spectroscopy, which analyses the light scattered from the tissues to calculate the amount of oxygen and blood within an area, and the diffuse correlation spectroscopy, which analyses fluctuation in the tissue-scattered lights to measure blood flow.
“Both techniques share the same detectors, which decreases the number of detectors compared to other instruments,” said Zhu.
“The team’s device can record a comprehensive profile of a body part’s hemodynamics, or blood circulation. Devices should measure as many ‘hemodynamic parameters’ as necessary to obtain an accurate diagnosis, as ‘the hemodynamics of stroke is complex’,” said Hua Feng, from Army Medical University.
Another advantage of the device is that it is cheap and compact, which would make more accessible to the people, and hence, help treatment, diagnosis and chances of stroke, researchers said.
Parineeti ‘still learning’ to play badminton
Actress Parineeti Chopra has not started shooting for ‘Saina’ yet and says she is still learning how to play badminton.
Parineeti on Thursday said that the shooting for the biopic will commence in October.
“Hi everyone, we have not started the shoot of ‘Saina’ yet. I am still learning how to play Badminton! We will start in October once I get better at it! Four months to go,” she tweeted.
Parineeti had replaced actress Shraddha Kapoor in the Saina Nehwal biopic, which is being directed by Amole Gupte.
She will next be seen in ‘Jabariya Jodi’ along with actor Sidharth Malhotra. The film is scheduled for release on August 2. Directed by Prashant Singh, ‘Jabariya Jodi’ is based on ‘Pakadwa Vivah’ (forced marriage), which was once rampant in Bihar.