Duplex Is Officially Here

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Duplex Is Officially Here

Time after time we’ve seen Google Duplex in the news, but it’s always been just on the horizon for the mass market.  Well here’s some news that isn’t just a tease: Duplex is now on your phone!

Pixels Now Have Duplex:

Ok, sorry to get your hopes up if you’re not team Pixel, but if you are, then this is good news for you. Google has just rolled out Duplex to Pixel phones in 43 states.  This means that if you own a Pixel and live in one of these states, you can now have your Google Assistant call on your behalf.  Looking for a restaurant reservation?  Just say “Ok Google, make a reservation at ___”.

That’s it.  Duplex will call the restaurant and take care of everything else.  Ok, it will ask you a few more details (such as for what time and for how many people), but it takes care of all the conversing on the phone.  The future is now.

Just how good is it?

Google actually received a ton of criticism after I/O last year when Duplex made its debut.  People were concerned that it mimicked a human toowell.  In June the company promised that Google Assistant would introduce itself before engaging in any conversation.  If you’ve used Google’s call screening feature before then you’re somewhat familiar with this introduction.

Duplex uses Google’s WaveNet audio processing neural network, and as such it sounds incredibly natural.  It throws “ums” into the conversation to mimic how people actually converse. While these may seem arbitrary, the VP of engineering for Google Assistant said that they are actually the key to keeping people engrossed in conversation.  Otherwise things start to feel too artificial and people hang up.

Opting Out:

While this technology is incredible, there are certainly going to be people that want nothing to do with it yet.  And as such Duplex makes it very clear that the call is automated, and informs everyone it calls that their being recorded.  If they respond with anything along the lines of “I don’t want to be recorded” or “I don’t want to speak with this” then the call is handed off to a human operator.

There’s sure to be some legal/ethical issues that arise despite this, but it’s good to at least see people are given the option to opt out.  Duplex is going to continue its rollout to other devices over time, and eventually it will just be taken for granted.  But for now its cutting edge tech and Pixel users can take advantage of it.

What are your thoughts on Duplex and its rollout?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

Brain Chips Are Here To Help

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Brain Chips Are Here To Help

As smartphone technology has advanced over the years there have been efforts to make sure no users are left behind.  Android Accessibility features have evolved alongside to help users with disabilities.  These have ranged from voice commands to braille displays.  And now, thanks to BrainGate, even paralyzed users who can’t pick up a phone have the opportunity to use one.

The IBCI unleashed:

Researchers have developed a new brain-computer interface that lets people with paralysis control a tablet fresh out of the box.  In the study, three participants with tetraplegia used the IBCI (intracortical brain-computer interface).  The IBCI was then connected to the tablet with a point-and-click wireless Bluetooth mouse.  The end result being that user were able to move a mouse around on the tablet screen and interact without ever touching the product.

Testers were able to use common apps ranging from web browsing to texting to playing music on a piano app.  Two of the users were able to use the device to “chat” with each other in real time.  Let me again emphasize that all of this was able to happen with a tablet that had no altercations done to it.  Users who were unable to move their arms or legs at all were able to experience the cutting-edge technologies that a lot of us take for granted.

Android Accessibility:

While the research for this achievement has been done by BrainGate, Android has taken steps as well to try making smartphone technology accessible to any and all users.  Android Accessibility’s feature set includes things such as the TalkBack function and Braille display.  TalkBack allows users to interact with their devices using spoken feedback.  The BrailleBack feature lets people connect a refreshable braille display to an android device via Bluetooth.  This way users can read their phone even though they can’t see the screen.

There are other Bluetooth connections that Android thrives on such as switch, keyboard, and mouse.  These help users with limited mobility, and they’re constantly undergoing innovations and improvements.  Fuchsia, proclaimed as Android’s successor, is working heavily on these kinds of integrations.

Taking Tech to The Next Level:

BrainGate’s research is truly amazing, but we also shouldn’t just pigeon hole it into something that can help those with paralysis.  As this technology continues to develop it will likely expand into all of our life’s until we’re eventually at the “Google Glasses” stage.  By this I mean seeing an entire virtual work around us and being able to interact with just our thoughts.

I’m incredibly excited to see this helping people experience what they otherwise couldn’t.  But there’s tons of opportunity for every smartphone user to utilize this tech down the road too.  What are your thoughts on the IBCI?  How far off do you think we are from this being a commodity that we all by at the store?  Let us know in the comments below!

Hands Up For Hands Off Hardware

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Hands Up For Hands Off Hardware

Have you ever held your phone for so long that your hand start to cramp up?  Maybe I just have a problem and need to get off mine.  Regardless I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that I could navigate at times without having to actually touch my screen.  Thanks to Google’s new app Voice Access this is becoming a reality.

What is Voice Access?

Plenty of people could benefit from using their devices while their busy doing other things.  Whether it’s cooking a meal or driving a car it’s nice to at least have the option.  Google’s Central Accessibility Team agrees with this and after years of research has release an app that lets users move to and fro in apps using just their voices.  We’ve had things like Google Assistant around for a while now, but this is taking things up a notch.

Voice Access has actually been in beta for a couple years, but non-stop development has finally made it ready for a production release.  Users are able to open and close apps, compose text messages, click buttons, watch videos (ok that one doesn’t really take touch in the first place).  Long story short there aren’t a lot of interactions that you can’t replicate using your voice.

So How Does It Work?

Voice Access offers users control of where they want to go by placing numbers on the screen near possible interactions.  Users can say what they want to click on and also issue commands such as “turn down the volume”, “turn off device”, or “scroll up”.    In other words, there are common sense interactions, and for everything else there are little paper clips floating around and if you say their name they’ll help you out.

Users can even modify their texts as they type them.  For instance if you wrote a text to a friend saying “Do you want to get dinner tonight?” but then changed your mind you could ask Voice Access to modify.  Simply say “replace ‘tonight’ with ‘tomorrow”, and the text would become “Do you want to get dinner tomorrow?” This kind of feature is particularly useful when you consider that the majority of people using hands free devices for interactions will be texting.

A larger market:

But it isn’t just for convenience’s sake.  In the United States alone millions of people have mobility impairments that could limit their hand function.  Voice Access offers people a chance to use phones to their full capacity when that capability might not otherwise have existed.  It will also be interesting to see how this develops as Fuchsia rises in popularity.  That alternative operating system is based around audio interactions so the two could certainly have some innovation in the years to come.

What do you think about hands free devices?  Have you thought of any other ways users could use their phones other than with voice commands?  Let us know in the comments below!

 

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