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AI assistants can be furtively oversmart

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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.


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Oppo A1K, Oppo A5s Tipped to Launch in India Soon

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Oppo is reportedly gearing up to launch two new smartphones in India – the Oppo A1K and Oppo A5s. The Oppo A1K will reportedly be a budget smartphone powered by the MediaTek Helio P22 SoC paired with 2GB of RAM. The smartphone is also tipped to feature a 4,000mAh battery and will reportedly run ColorOS 6.0 based on Android Pie. On the other hand, the Oppo A5s has reportedly received BIS certification, which means the upcoming smartphone’s launch in India is imminent.

Starting with the Oppo A1K, it will reportedly be priced in the budget segment and might soon be launched in India. The Oppo offering is rumoured to feature a 6-inch or a slightly larger display with a waterdrop notch, although details like resolution and aspect ratio are not known. The Oppo A1K will reportedly be powered by the octa-core MediaTek Helio P22 SoC clocked at 2.0GHz, paired with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. The Oppo A1K will is tipped to be the first smartphone from the Chinese smartphone maker to come equipped with the MediaTek Helio P22 SoC.

The alleged specifications of the Oppo A1K, which come courtesy of MySmartPrice, also mention that the device will feature a single rear camera, but there is no word on the megapixel count. Additionally, the Oppo A1K will reportedly be available in a single storage configuration and will hit the shelves in Red and Black colour options. Oppo’s next offering is tipped to pack a 4,000mAh battery and will run ColorOS 6.0 based on Android Pie. The dimensions of the Oppo A1K will reportedly be 154.4×77.4×8.4 mm and it will tip the scales at 165 grams.

 

As for the Oppo A5s, key specifications and a render of the smartphone were leaked earlier this month. Now, the smartphone has reportedly received BIS certification in India, which is an indication that the Oppo A5s is inching closer to its official launch. The offering’s BIS certification was spotted by MySmartPrice, which also reported about the Oppo A5s’ NBTC certification in Thailand.

The Oppo A5s will reportedly be a refreshed version of the Oppo A5s that was launched in India last month. The Oppo A5s’ rumoured specifications also bear some similarity with the Oppo A7’s hardware, such as an identical rear camera setup and display. The Oppo A1K will reportedly feature a 6.2-inch HD+ (720×1520 pixels) display with a waterdrop notch and will be powered by the MediaTek Helio P35 SoC. The smartphone will be launched in multiple configurations with 2GB, 3GB, and 4GB of RAM paired with 32GB or 64GB of inbuilt storage that can further be expanded via a microSD card (up to 256GB).

The Oppo A5s is tipped to feature a dual rear camera setup consisting of a 13-megapixel primary sensor with an f/2.2 aperture and a 2-megapixel depth sensor with an f/2.4 aperture. The front snapper will reportedly be an 8-megapixel sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. The upcoming Oppo smartphone will run ColorOS 5.2 based on Android Oreo, while its dimensions and weight will be 155.9×75.4×8.2mm and 170 grams respectively. The Oppo A5s might be available in Red, Black, Gold, and Green colour options. There is no word on the pricing or a definite launch timeline of the Oppo A1K or the Oppo A5s in India.

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Apple Watch spots heart issues, with limits: Study

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Researchers from Stanford University’s School of Medicine presented results from a giant study sponsored by Apple Inc that showed the Apple Watch can sometimes spot patients with undiagnosed heart-rhythm problems, without producing large numbers of false alarms.

The Apple-sponsored trial enrolled 419,297 people and was one of the largest heart-screening studies ever. The study, details of which are being presented today at the American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans, used the watch’s sensors to detect possible atrial fibrillation.

“The findings are exciting and encouraging, but clearly there is a lot more to be done,” said Lloyd Minor, dean of Stanford’s medical school. The study could help pave the way for more research into how modern digital tools can help improve health.

 

People who have atrial fibrillation are at risk of blood clots and strokes. In the U.S., it causes 750,000 hospitalizations a year and contributes to 130,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because it doesn’t always produce outward symptoms, it can go undiagnosed.

According to results presented Saturday, about 0.5 per cent of patients in the study — or almost 2,100 people — received notices from their watch indicating that they might have a heart-rhythm problem. That relatively low number showed that the technology wasn’t inundating people with worrisome alerts.

Further Study

Of the minority of patients who got notifications and agreed to wear a portable electrocardiogram for up to a week, about 34 per cent were found to have atrial fibrillation. That may be because atrial fibrillation can come and go, and doesn’t necessarily mean that the other 66 per cent didn’t have the condition, Mintu Turakhia, a Stanford professor of cardiovascular medicine and one of the leaders of the study, said in a statement.

Apple looks forward “to learning more about the impact of Apple Watch alongside the medical community,” said Jeff Williams, the company’s chief operating officer.

One unusual feature of the study is that it allowed people to participate without ever visiting a doctor in person. When the watch detected repeated periods of irregular heartbeats, patients got alerts to call in for a virtual consultation.

The study isn’t likely to immediately shift medical practice.

“We have got more work to do to understand specifically how the data form this technology can be integrated into routine clinical assessment and patient management decisions,” said Kenneth Mahaffey, a cardiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who chaired the study.

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Huawei P30 Pro to launch in India soon after the global announcement: Report

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It looks like India will not have to long for the Huawei P30 Pro after its global launch event on March 26 in Paris, France. According to a report , Huawei plans to unveil the Huawei P30 Pro in India days or weeks after the Paris launch event of the device.

The news agency quoted a source saying, “The company is dedicated to the India market and it aims to narrow the gap in the timing of global launches of flagship devices with this phone.”

Huawei P30 and Huawei P30 Pro have been subjected to a number of leaks. From image renders to hands-on images and camera specifications to processor, we have a general idea of what these two phones will bring to the table.

 

While we have seen hands-on images of Huawei P30 Pro shared by Slashleaks which revealed quad camera setup with a periscope-style lens, recently, WinFuture revealed the full specifications of the device as well as image renders of the upcoming device.

Earlier Huawei VP of Global Product Marketing Clement Wong confirmed new Super Zoom feature of the phone. While Huawei shared teasers for the lossless zoom, we also got to see leaked camera samples of Huawei P30 Pro as well.

Huawei P30 Pro: Expected specifications and features

Huawei P30 Pro will likely feature a 6.47-inch FHD+ OLED curved display with 2340×1080 resolution, 19:9 aspect ratio, a tear-drop notch on top and an in-display fingerprint sensor. The device will be powered by Huawei’s latest octa-core Kirin 980 processor coupled with up to 12GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage options.

At the back, Huawei P30 Pro will have two camera strips to host four cameras. One strip will carry a flash and probably a ToF (time of flight) sensor, while the other strip will have three camera lens– one of which is a square shaped periscope style ‘Super Zoom’ camera lens.

The latest leak reveals the camera specs as– 40MP primary camera with f/1.6 aperture + 20MP secondary wide-angle sensor with f/2.2 aperture + a third 8MP camera with f/3.4 aperture + a fourth Time of Flight camera. The front camera of the device is tipped to be a 32MP sensor.

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