Why does Alexa speak to me in German?


Screenshot which says "1 new notification from Amazon shopping: ‘Ein Autor, dem Sie auf Amazon folgen, Mary Robinette Kowal, hat ein neues Buch mit dem Namen Die Berechnung der Sterne: Roman veröffentlicht.’"

I speak English. My Amazon account is set to English. My Alexa listens to my English commands and replies in English. Except for new book notifications. I saw a pulsing yellow light on the dot. I've memorised all of the various signs and portents the accurs'd device can summon up, so I asked it (in…

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Book Review: When HARLIE was One


Book cover featuring a digital vitruvian man.

I started reading this as the news came out that someone at Google got convinced that their AI was sentient. And that's what this book is about! A researcher starts talking to his computer and gradually becomes convinced that it is "alive". It is a perennially prescient story. And it is fascinating to see how…

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Google's AI Doesn't Understand Restaurant Menus


Chicken Tika Massala listed for £1,990.

In the glorious future, every website will be chock-full of semantic metadata. Restaurants won't have a 50MB PDF explaining the chef's vision for organic cuisine - instead, they'll have little scraps of data on the HTML page like: "hasMenuItem":{ "@type":"MenuItem", "name":"Dodo In A Bun", "description":"The legendary extinct bird cooked in tomato sauce, served in a…

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This Bench Does Not Exist


A bench with a deformed arm.

We forced an AI to look at thousands of photos of memorial benches. Just because. Here are the results. You can view more at This Bench Does Not Exist. Here's a video which shows how the process generates images. It gives you an idea of what the model "thinks" a bench is. Download the model…

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Practical Machine Learning with Python


Logo of the Python programming language.

As part of my MSc I'm taking a short course in Practical Machine Learning via QA.com. The first three days were just about basic stats visualisation using Python. It was great to have a refresher - but I would have expected that to be a pre-requisite. The tutor was excellent - very patient at explaining…

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Alexa Standard English


A reel-to-reel tape recorder.

"Alexa… timer for fifteen minutes." The problem with the English language is that it is full of homophones, or semi-homophones. 15 and 50 sound basically the same. Humans have a hard time distinguishing them. So there's no wonder that voice assistants also have difficulty. Recently, I've noticed that my wife and I have adopted a…

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What does Google think the minimum wage is?


Graph showing the rise in minimum wage in Euros.

There's been several long threads recently on Google's crappy info-box. Google doesn't want you to leave the Google page, so Google slurps information up and presents you an answer on the Google homepage. Here's what it typically looks like. OK, that's kinda useful. Search for a thing and get the info without clicking through. But…

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Synthetic Poetry


A robot taxi driver.

I've been experimenting with Amazon's Polly service. It's their fancy text-to-sort-of-human-style-speech system. Think "Alexa" but with a variety of voices, genders, and accents. Here's "Brian" - their English, male, received pronunciation voice - reading John Betjeman's poem "Slough": The pronunciation of all the words is incredibly lifelike. If you heard it on the radio, it…

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Movie Review: The Mitchells 🆚 The Machines


Movie poster witha madcap animated family in a car.

One of my favourite movie moments is in the 1998 movie Antz - when one of the ants turns to camera and says: It's the workers who control the means of production! Even though we're not in the age of the Hollywood Blacklist, it's still rare to see overt - and literal - Marxism on…

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My Robot Vacuum Cleaner is Afraid of Sunshine


Cleaner in sunlight.

I have a cheap WiFi enabled vacuum cleaner. One morning, I barked "ALEXA! CLEAN THE HOUSE." The gynoid immediately responded with "Now playing songs by Crowded House." The future's ace, innit? So I opened the cleaner's app, hit a button, and heard the sound of a domestic-droid doing its thing. For two minutes. The app…

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