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“Twitter’s China director Kathy Chen departs after 8 months” plus 14 more VentureBeat


“Twitter’s China director Kathy Chen departs after 8 months” plus 14 more VentureBeat

Twitter’s China director Kathy Chen departs after 8 months

Posted: 31 Dec 2016 02:11 PM PST

Twitter's logo featured in the lobby of its San Francisco headquarters.

Twitter’s seemingly endless line of executives parting ways with the company continues as its China managing director Kathy Chen announced her departure. She termed her separation as being the “right time”, but came abruptly as she only joined Twitter in April. Chen did not disclose her future plans, only to say in a tweet that she will “take some time off to recharge, study about different cultures and then pursue more international business opportunities.”

Although she received the title of managing director for Greater China, Twitter wasn’t able to legally operate in the country because of a ban imposed by the government — although some have found workarounds to use it regardless. Amid this giant hurdle, the company opened up a Hong Kong office in 2015 to pursue Chinese advertisers because while the country’s citizens can’t use the service internally, it shouldn’t stop businesses from advertising beyond its borders, right?

Chen was brought on board in April to oversee this effort and also to find ways for the platform to be used by developers and other businesses not only in China, but Hong Kong and Taiwan. Twitter faced criticism over her hiring from activists who argued that Chen’s background working with the People’s Liberation Army as an engineer and also Computer Associates, which once had China’s government as a minority owner, would be a hinderance to free speech.

In a 12-part series of tweets yesterday, Chen said that she felt that since there was an established relationship with Chinese advertisers, her job was done. “Great China is one of our fastest growing revenue markets in Asia Pacific for Twitter today…” she remarked, saying that the advertiser base has grown “nearly 400 percent over the past 2 years.”

The Hong Kong office will remain open “at this time”. Twitter also has an office in Singapore which houses its Asia Pacific headquarters.

Eight months is all it took for Chen to join a growing cadre of executives who have left the company. She joins chief technology officer Adam Messinger, Josh McFarland who is now a venture capitalist with Greylock, Kevin Weil who joined Instagram, chief operating officer Adam Bain, engineering executive Alex Roetter, global media head Katie Stanton, and human resources chief Brian “Skip” Schipper, as having moved past Twitter.

How AI will help knowledge workers

Posted: 31 Dec 2016 12:10 PM PST

AI will assist workers.

Will you still be doing your job in 5-10 years or will a robot do it for you?

This is a question knowledge workers have started asking themselves as AI is becoming more capable and widely adopted. Atlassian co-founder and CEO, Mike Cannon-Brookes, has said AI will play a major role in the future of team productivity. Well, here is why.

AI's immense growth

Bank of America and Merrill Lynch predicts that AI will have a $9 trillion impact on knowledge work over the coming decade. The McKinsey Global Institute says AI is driving transformation of society at a rate of "3,000 times the impact" of the Industrial Revolution. CB Insights analysis shows funding for AI companies is increasing year-over-year. Broad trends and real-world results mean AI and bots can't be ignored as empty hype any more.

Rather than being fearful of AI, our opportunity is to embrace its potential to enable entirely new ways of operating in our organisations and allow us to apply our knowledge to higher value activities.

Understanding AI in business

There are two basic ways to understand the world of AI: artificial general intelligence (General AI or AGI) and narrow artificial intelligence (Narrow AI). Narrow AI is the use of machines to intelligently solve specific problems, while General AI is a machine or group of machines that have the complete cognitive capabilities of a human. Contrary to what the science fiction movies might suggest, General AI is still a long way off.

Challenges to General AI:

The main challenge to General AI is that, well, we don't fully understand what consciousness is. Philosophers have advanced their thinking beyond Descartes' concept of body and mind to the understanding that our brains give rise to consciousness, but, along with neuroscientists and others, we still don't understand what it is let alone how to recreate it.

By way of example, the OpenWorm project has only just started the process of simulating a creature as simple as a worm. Despite the extensive understanding of Caenorhabditis elegans (the worm being simulated) there are still many questions about how to go about recreating it and its limited intelligence. So there is still some time until we have to consider singularity – or for Terminator fans – the Skynet problem.

Narrow AI

Narrow AI, on the other hand, is already having an impact and is rapidly spreading into more areas. It has been influencing our everyday lives for years now, whether we are getting advice on stock purchases, or being recommended a book on Amazon. Narrow AI has been delivering value by using large, structured data-sets to solve problems that have clear outcomes or rules. It is now reaching beyond this area.

AI, bots, teams and management

The possibilities for bots and AI to assist and participate in teams are opening up. The key drivers behind this are:

  • Data is accessible. Tasks, issues, timelogs, source code, test results, and all the other things you use to build software, is sitting in a system somewhere. The systems holding team data are getting easier and easier to access due to APIs, support for add-ons or their cloud-based nature.
  • Data is messy. The data teams use is messy. It's not anyone's fault it's just the nature of work. Due to time constraints and release pressures it's hard to find the time to clean things up while a team is in motion (which is always). But that isn't necessarily a problem now because of the advancements being made in dealing with unstructured data.
  • Data set size isn't an issue. Compared to the massive data sets of Amazon, Facebook and Google, the data set sizes of most teams are very small. Teams usually only have tens or hundreds of tasks. Even larger teams with thousands of tasks would have, statistically speaking, a small data set. Advancements in algorithms for small data sets mean that narrow AI can start producing meaningful results for teams.
  • Team process standardisation. Most teams, across organisations and around the world, are now settling on essentially similar processes and approaches to how they work. The pervasiveness of agile in software development teams is one example of this. The implication for narrow AI is that it's easier to be more useful to a greater of people. This also means it is possible to combine data across organisations to create larger data sets.
  • Productivity improvements now outweigh inaccuracy. As the algorithms are evolving there are still inaccuracies. However, the benefits gained – either by reduced costs, increased speed or increased insight – now outweigh the flaws, inaccuracies and, for some chatbots, annoyances present in narrow AI.

This article appeared originally at Atlassian.

Why 2017 will be the year of drones

Posted: 31 Dec 2016 10:25 AM PST

Drones & Drone Deliveries

2016 taught us a lot about drones and their potential to deliver benefits for consumers, communities, and businesses alike. Google and Chipotle tested burrito delivery on the campus of Virginia Tech, while cities nationwide turned to drones to help first responders, inspect bridges and roads, and monitor construction sites. We witnessed the launch of innovative products from Intel, Yuneec, DJI, Sensefly, and others — not to mention GoPro's first drone. Through it all, we experienced changes in FAA regulations and the advent of Part 107, which has opened the skies for drone commerce, making once experimental drone operations completely routine.

And we've only scratched the surface. In 2017, we're going to see drones come to the forefront of business, tech, and our daily lives. Let's talk about what drones have in store for us next year.

Follow the money … away from venture capital

We'll see VC investment in drones decline in 2017, but that doesn't mean total investment will slow. Expect large enterprises like telecom companies and large consumer electronics brands to begin investing more seriously in the drone space — along with increased M&A activity and more strategic partnerships. More drone companies will prove they can generate revenue and will attract partners who can help them accelerate.

Big players will get into the game

Logistics companies like Amazon and DHL will start to put more and more drones in the air. Traditional retailers that have been developing drone strategies behind closed doors will announce their ideas for innovation and implementation, heating up the marketplace. Cloud players and corporate giants (think IBM or GE) will stake out expanded drone positions with long-term impacts for the entire industry. And Uber, after publishing its flying car white paper earlier this year, will convene its first "Elevate Summit" in 2017, bringing together a community of stakeholders that is looking to low-altitude airspace, not our roadways, for the future of mobility.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's 20,000 drones!

Today, we commonly see about 5,000 drones flying simultaneously around the world. With large consumer electronics, logistics, and telecom companies making major plays in the drone ecosystem, I predict that by the end of the year, that number will reach 20,000 simultaneous drone flights worldwide. That would represent a 400 percent increase next year.

Smart cities get even smarter

Many cities with "smart" inclinations are already considering what transportation and infrastructure will look like in 20, 50, and even 100 years — and are planning accordingly. These "smart government"-minded cities are investigating how unmanned aircraft could affect this future, and in 2017, we'll see them make moves to establish themselves as top places for drones to do business. Next year, smart cities will invest in civic drone technology to be adopted by fire departments, police departments, and local administrators. And we might even see competition among the most connected cities as they try to attract the first drone deliveries to their communities.

Drones will be easier to buy and fly — and safer than ever

Prices for drones will continue coming down, even for drones with sophisticated features. The experience of flying a drone will become easier, especially as autonomous flight capabilities improve.

In 2017, the drone industry will build tools to help drones and their operators make accurate risk assessments, which can be used to identify safe flight plans, prevent accidents, and make drone flight even safer. In the U.S., we should see significant advancements on the road to Unmanned Traffic Management (the public-private partnership that will enable air traffic control and data exchange for millions of drones). Abroad, I expect we'll see other countries open the skies for more automated flight beyond visual line of sight.

The bottom line: 2017 is the year of the drone

Whether we're talking about who's paying for them, who's buying them, or how they are being used, drones will be pushed to the forefront of cultural, political, commercial, and consumer conversations in 2017. A shifting adoption landscape combined with new sources of funding and advanced improvements in technology should make 2017 a monumental year for the drone. I can't wait to see what's next.

Ben Marcus is cofounder and CEO of AirMap, an airspace management platform for UAS. He was previously cofounder and CEO of jetAVIVA and served as a flight test engineer for Eclipse Aviation. He is an FAA-certified Airline Transport Pilot and Flight Instructor with flight experience in more than 100 aircraft types and ratings in seaplanes, gliders, helicopters, and six types of jets. He is also a certificated Remote Pilot. He serves on the board of Angel Flight West, a non-profit organization that arranges free air transport in response to health care needs, and he flies volunteer missions for animal rescue groups Pilots N Paws and Wings of Rescue.

CES 2017: Your guide to surviving tech’s craziest trade show

Posted: 31 Dec 2016 08:02 AM PST

The Microsoft party at CES 2016.

I’ve survived more than 20 Consumer Electronics Shows. This year, I’m going to walk miles and miles of exhibits again at CES 2017, the gigantic tech trade show in Las Vegas next week. If you’re a newcomer or even a veteran who needs reminders, please heed some advice to avoid nightmares and hangovers.

Just like last year, the survival tips are affected by bag restrictions and entrance searches at all of the big venues. The threat of terrorism has put a damper on the wanton luggage follies of years past.

That means, sadly, I won’t be able to get much use out of my brand new backpack roller (which my coworkers have dubbed my secret weapon in years past).

The 50th annual show opens on Tuesday, January 3, for the 6,500 or so press attending the show. The press events continue on January 4. But the 2.4 million square feet of exhibit space will open at 10 a.m. Thursday, January 5. VentureBeat writers Ken Leung and John Brandon will join me, and some of my colleagues will be comfortably watching livestreams at home.

CES 2016 drew more than 170,000 attendees.

Above: CES 2016 drew more than 170,000 attendees.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the organization newly renamed Consumer Technology Association, told us in September that 4K TVs are selling at faster rates than their HDTV predecessors, with 20 million expected to sell in the U.S. in 2017, up 5 million from 2016. We’ll see 4K TVs from many of the big consumer electronics companies, as well as 8K TVs and monitors.

And we’re also going to see a lot of drones, wearables, augmented reality, virtual reality, robots, smart cars, health gadgets, 3D printers, and Internet of Things objects. There were 177,000 people at last year’s show, and the CTA hopes to rein it in a bit to 165,000 this year. That’s insanely crowded, even for Vegas.

I pay attention to the overall numbers because they are like bellwethers for the tech economy. Companies go there to be perceived as cool, and I go so that I can stay up to speed on the latest technology. We can expect to see more than 3,800 exhibitors.

Now I am one of those people who is getting a little tired of each new Internet of Things announcement. But if Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, is correct, we’re not doing with them yet. He anticipates that by 2018, the number of Internet of Things devices will surpass the number of mobile devices. By 2021, we’ll have 1.8 billion PCs, 8.6 billion mobile devices, and 15.7 billion IoT devices. He predicts we’ll get to a trillion IoT devices.

Apple doesn’t attend the show, but just about every other tech giant does. CES is where you’ll find the powers that be.

My survival tips

Models show off the Razor Hovertrax at CES 2016

Above: Models show off the Razor Hovertrax at CES 2016

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Some of these tips are recycled from past years, but the new baggage rules make that tricky. You’ll just have to travel lighter. This year, the CTA intends to search bags at the entrances to the show floor just as it did last year. We survived that hassle a year ago, but don’t forget to take possible delays into account when planning your schedule.

Shapiro noted, “Tragically, our world has also seen an increase in violent and inexplicable acts. We will enhance our security measures accordingly.”

Rolling bags won’t be permitted on the show floor, and you can only carry two bags, each smaller than 12 inches by 17 inches by 6 inches. Last year, we were able to get search stickers at the first search place, and then use those to circumvent the bag checks every time we came in and out of buildings. However, I wouldn’t count on that happening every time you go into a new venue.

You need a CES badge and a government photo ID. If you can, you should pick up your badge at the airport or one of these locations. Media is subject to the same rules, with some allowances, so long as you have a media badge.

On your crowded flights, try to travel light. For Southwest, try to check in exactly 24 hours ahead of boarding. Check in your baggage if you don’t have to get anywhere fast. Be prepared for long cab lines or rental car check-in lines. (Services like Uber and Lyft were very useful last year at CES.)

Bring your comfortable shoes, and try not to stay out too late at the parties. If the parties are what you care about, check out the Karennet party list. Many of them are invite-only. Remember to swap phone numbers with the people you are meeting with so you can coordinate. Incorporate drive and eating times into your calendar, or use a calendar that does that automatically for you (I’m still looking for one).

Smartphone reception is better than it used to be, but it’s still probably prone to interference. Text message is usually a decent way to communicate with coworkers. We always seek out the Wi-Fi havens in the press rooms or wherever we can find them. But carry a MiFi or activate a personal hotspot if you can; even hotel Internet connections are likely to be stressed to the limit during the show. If you’re responsible for uploading video, good luck with that.

If you collect a lot of swag, you can send it home via shipping services instead of carting it on the plane. You should print a map of the exhibit floor or rip one out of the show guide. You should also print your tickets, schedule, and RSVPs for events. You need a lot of battery backup for your laptop or smartphone, hand sanitizer, a good camera, ibuprofen, and vitamins. Bring a backup for everything, even if you have to leave it in your hotel room this year.

Intel's booth at CES 2016.

Above: Intel’s booth at CES 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Pack enough business cards. If you’re exhibiting, wear your company brand on your shirt. Try very hard to keep from losing your phone. I wear a jacket with zippered pockets so I can put my phone and wallet inside.

Make some time to walk the show floor. If the cab line has you frustrated, don’t think about walking to a nearby hotel. Chances are the cab line there is also bad, and the hotels are so huge that a mirage effect makes them look deceptively close. If you have a rental car, try not to get stuck in a traffic jam in a 10-story parking garage.

Schedule your appointments in locations that are near each other. Arrive early for keynotes because the lines are long. Drink lots of water. Get some sleep — you really don’t have to party every night. Don’t miss your flight on the way out. Pack up a bunch of snacks early on to avoid getting stuck in morning or lunch lines. Take a good camera because what happens in Vegas … gets shared on the Internet.

What’s happening when

And here’s how we expect the news to unfold this week:


Lots of embargoed news will break Monday through Thursday as tech companies try to steal each other’s thunder and catch some early buzz. The Consumer Technology Association analysts will open a press-only event with sales stats and trend forecasts for 2016. The event officially kicks off in the afternoon with a press-only CES Unveiled reception, where scores of companies that have won innovation awards will be first to show off. You’ll start seeing posts about cool stuff at that party on Tuesday evening, particularly from all the tech journalists who are chained to tables at the party.


Press Day at CES has now morphed into a day and a half. It starts around 1 p.m. on Tuesday and then runs from 8 a.m. to the early evening on Wednesday. Qualcomm has a press event at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, while LG kicks off the Wednesday press events at 8 a.m. You should search for CES press event livestreams, particularly if you can’t get in.

The line for CES Unveiled party.

Above: The line for the 2016 CES Unveiled party.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Most of the press events are at the Mandalay Bay, although Sony has an event at 4:45 p.m. at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Wednesday. These events are closed to non-press attendees, but we’ll be writing posts about a lot of these events.

At 6:30 p.m., Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang will give the opening keynote for the first time. At the keynote, the CTA’s Shapiro will welcome the early crowd at the sprawling Palazzo ballroom at the Venetian Hotel. Then Huang will talk about transforming Nvidia from a graphics chip maker to an artificial intelligence company. We’ll close the evening with the Pepcom Digital Experience party, a private event at the Mirage Hotel.


At 10 a.m., the show floor formally opens in the Las Vegas Convention Center and World Trade Center, the Westgate Las Vegas, and the Renaissance Las Vegas. We’ll see keynotes by Arnold Donald of Carnival, Richard Yu of Huawei, Carlos Ghosn of Nissan, Barry Diller of IAC and Expedia, and Michael Kassan of MediaLink. That’s a strange cast of characters at a tech event, but it shows you how ubiquitous tech has become. We’ll catch more product unveilings at the invite-only Showstoppers Party at the Wynn Hotel.

The Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) is cavernous. It stretches from the North Hall, where a lot of the car makers and speaker manufacturers gather, to the vast Central Hall and the multilevel South Hall. It’s a couple of miles from one end to the other, so try to space out your appointments. A rookie mistake: not paying attention to the exhibit floor map about where your appointments are.

It’s not easy to get from the LVCC to the Sands Expo during the rush period, but the CEA provides shuttle buses for that purpose. Parking is scarce, and you’ll pay $20 or more for it each day.

CES 2016 show floor

Above: CES 2016 show floor

Image Credit:

The Tech West area includes the Sands Expo, The Venetian, the Palazzo, Wynn Las Vegas, and Encore at Wynn. Tech South, which includes the Aria, Cosmopolitan, and Vdara hotels, is host to C Space activities. Sadly, we won’t see any high-ranking federal officials at this year’s event.

When the exhibit floor closes at 6 p.m., there’s a mad rush for the taxi line, the shuttle buses to major hotels, the parking garages, and the monorail. Try not to get stuck in gigantic traffic jams out on the Las Vegas Strip and anywhere else near the main convention center; maybe wait out the rush at a coffeehouse or hotel bar.


If you’re still up for hearing talks, Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm, will speak from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Venetian’s Palazzo Ballroom, while Kevin Plank of Under Armour will talk at 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the same venue.


I’m taking off a little early this year, flying out on this morning. I suspect a lot of people will be doing so, so watch out for the stampede.


If you hate crowds, this may be the day to show up. The VB crew will be gone by this point, and we’ll be home contemplating our picks for the top CES trends, the best products and services, and awesome images from the show. But the show floor will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If you’re smart, you’ll take some painkillers and a vacation day before you return to work.


10 predictions and opportunities for virtual and augmented reality in 2017

Posted: 31 Dec 2016 07:15 AM PST

virtual reality

2016 was "Year Zero" for the current wave of consumerization of virtual reality and augmented reality, devices are finally shipping, consumers are buying, and applications are earning. Consider what “Year Zero” was for the PC or the mobile waves of technology adoption, and look at where we are today. 2017 is shaping up to be an early and fantastically productive year for the virtual reality & augmented reality industries.

Having spent the better part of 2016 diving into the VR & AR industry, here is list of six predictions and four “wishes” for 2017:


#1: Apple enters the augmented reality game through the iPhone 8 camera

Of the tech majors who are openly investing billions into VR & AR initiatives, Apple is strikingly missing from that list. While Cupertino's infamous "cone of silence" is typically quite effective, its M&A and hiring strategies paint a picture of deep exploration in virtual and augmented reality through acquisitions such as Primesense, Metaio, Flyby Media, and key hires from the Microsoft HoloLens, Oculus, and Magic Leap teams. With the unveiling of iPhone 8, the 10th anniversary iPhone, many are predicting a stark change in form factor, and while a head worn display is possible, the phone camera is the obvious and most accessible AR device for consumers today.

#2: Snap unveils roadmap to augmented reality platform, a natural extension of Spectacles

Snapchat's new Spectacles.

Above: Snapchat’s new Spectacles.

Image Credit: Screenshot

2017 will be a big year for Snap Inc., coming off a buzzy release of its connected sunglass camera product, Spectacles, and preparing for the potentially the largest tech IPO since Facebook. With Spectacles, not only has Snap has made it “cool” with the millennials-set to wear a battery and camera on your face, but the company has invented a novel and very natural way to keep this battery-laden device juiced up — via the charging case. While today, Spectacles are primarily content capture devices, a believable next step for a future Spectacles product is to enable display of information within the lenses, to the wearer, such as time, walking directions, recent text messages, or next appointment. Google Glass is rolling over in its deep grave.

#3: HTC Vive announces “standalone” Virtual Reality headset, like Oculus Santa Cruz

HTC Vive, the currently leader in room scale Virtual Reality, will announce a “standalone” VR headset. The Vive is the industry leader in terms of quality of experience and depth of “immersion” in VR, thanks to its sophisticated infrared light tracking hardware setup. However, the curse is that it must be tethered and powered by a high-end gaming PC with a top of the line GPU hardware, which can be very expensive. Don't forget that HTC's primary area of expertise is that of a manufacturer of high-end mobile phone devices, including the Google Pixel. So, expect HTC to announce a standalone VR device, with the compute and graphics power onboard, which will enable high quality mobile VR experiences to consumers at a far more approachable form factor and price.

#4: Facebook takes a bigger focus in Virtual Reality, Oculus brand steps back

Photo of an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Above: Photo of an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

In Facebook's acquisition of Oculus, it acquired a delivery mechanism. After two years of product development on hardware and software, Facebook reached a high point of quality for both consumers and developers, and it did so in a relative “walled garden” of early adopters who are excited by and loyal to the Oculus brand. In 2017, expect Facebook to start introducing VR experiences directly to its 1.79 billion monthly active users under its own, more familiar, flag.

#5: Removing the tether…the dawn of wireless head mounted displays

For those who have tried a full-featured virtual reality rig like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, the experience is often “out of this world,” but there's a common annoyance caused by the “tether,” that hangs down the back of the head-mounted display (HMD) connecting it to the PC. While annoying to the user, this cord carries important low-latency, high speed graphics to the HMD ensuring a quality experience and minimizing potential of nausea. With advances in near-field Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, expect to see a number of branded and manufactured wireless headsets or attachments come to market to solve this tangled problem.

#6: WebVR takes center stage as bridges are built between fully immersive VR and mobile

While millions of new people will try and buy VR experiences in 2017, the vast majority still will not have access, but WebVR will offer a “magic window.” VR is so compelling because of the extraordinary experiences it enables for the user, and as social creatures, we naturally want to share this. As VR starts to have more “creation” experiences, like TiltBrush or Medium, enabling users to create art or environments, so will they want to share with friends outside of VR. Mozilla's A-Frame is a fantastic framework and open standard to enable any JavaScript developer to render 3D images directly in a browser.


As an active investor in the VR & AR industry looking for Series A-stage companies working to shape great products and experiences, here is what I hope to see in 2017:

#1: More "creation" experiences in VR and AR

Demos of the Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles at the Intel Developer Forum.

Above: Demos of the Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles at the Intel Developer Forum.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

To date, most VR experiences have been primarily content consumption or gaming experiences. However, some of the most engaging and exciting experiences are applications that let the user create content. These are applications like Google's TiltBrush, Oculus' Medium, or Quill, and more environmental creation apps like High Fidelity or Mindshow. In AR, even consider Snapchat's face filters as a type of highly-popular augmented content creation. As WebVR becomes more common, enabling 3D rendering of VR and AR content to be shared more freely in the browser, I'm excited to see what types of art, experiences, and applications are created by users and developers.

#2: More natural social interactions

Current social experiences in VR tend to be a bit awkward — an empty room, some floating avatars, and nothing really to talk about. Rec Room has done a good job of layering in social interaction around simple schoolyard games, which leads to the most contextually natural social interaction I've seen yet in VR. Social can't just be copied over from prior platforms such as chat rooms, photo sharing, and messaging — it will take new life and form factor in VR.  it will take new life and form factor in VR. It will be interesting to see if it focuses more vertically around different types of content like education, art, movies, and games, or if there can be more ubiquitously relevant horizontal applications such as Facebook.

#3: More “magic window” opportunities

How do we reach more people with 3D content in a way that encourages them to take the leap into trying or buying VR? The “magic window” bridge enabling people outside of VR to see, experience, or partake in VR experiences will be a key step. A good example showing the implementation of “magic windows” is Mark Zuckerberg's video chat at the Oculus OC3 developer conference where, within VR, he conversed with his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan, who wasn’t using the technology.

The Fox Sports VR app for iOS is another example of the “magic window” that enables viewers to watch live sports from within a virtual Fox Sports luxury box at the stadium. This experience, powered by LiveLike, enables users to interact, share and talk about the game no matter if they are in VR or only on a mobile device.

#4: New ideas for in-experience monetization

VR is nascent, distribution is still limited, and monetization is in the early days. There aren't yet enough eyeballs to sustain consistent advertising streams, and premium content is still being defined. My druthers says that because of its incredible immersiveness users would be willing to pay for extensions, or added levels, to the experiences they love, but may not be willing to shell out relatively large cash ($20 to $60) at the outset for something new and unknown. Unfortunately today, most of the VR app distribution outlets like Oculus, Steam, and Google don't support in-experience transactions, but I imagine they will, so they can get their take.

Before that, what other unique models of monetization and engagement can we think of that makes sense in the VR and AR form factor? In-app purchases? Subscription? Cross-platform presence and avatars? Micro transactions? Virtual goods?

The advancements of VR & AR in 2016 have laid the groundwork for a fantastic year of growth ahead in 2017. From the foundational platform builders, to the indie developers creating delightful experiences, the opportunity in VR continues to grow, and now is the time to start staking claims.

Keep your New Year’s resolutions with help from these bots

Posted: 31 Dec 2016 06:00 AM PST


It's easy to get sort of jaded about New Year's resolutions, but we all believe that with some hard work, we can become a better person, and a new year tends to bring that out in people.

Just about everyone wants to get rid of bad habits, improve their career, work out more, or save money. Here’s a series of bots that can help you reach each of these goals.

More suggestions? Ping @kharijohnson on Twitter.

Make good habits, dump bad ones

First on the good habits list is Letz, which was named bot of the year by the Product Hunt community in the Golden Kitty Awards earlier this month.

The productivity app is available on iOS, Android, and the web, and it even has bots on Slack and Facebook Messenger.

Letz helps make sure that the tasks you set actually get done, with the help of its AI assistant Lucy. It follows your location, pings you at times you’re likely to see a notification, and makes sure you don’t forget about items on your to-do list.

Whether your goal is to make good habits or get rid of bad ones, you may want to try out Habitfy. It offers a lot of the features you get with Letz — make routines, start good habits — but a different motivation. When you complete your tasks, points are converted to cash that is donated to Charity:Water. It also comes with 40 habit suggestions, like inbox zero, write a to-do list, code for 30 minutes, or pray.

Use this app with its iMessage app extension and you can share your success streaks and accomplishments with family and friends.

Get fit and lose weight

FitStar Personal Trainer on Google Home delivers seven-minute workouts. It’s one of the 50-odd conversations actions (like Alexa skills) made available for Google Home in recent weeks. This action is an awful lot like the Alexa skill seven-minute Workout that follows the same approach: push-ups, jumping jacks, wall squats, and other exercises that require no equipment. It’s disappointing that this action makes no connection to the FitStar Personal Trainer apps for workout routines, however.

Fitbit on Alexa will tell you things like the number of steps you take a day, how much sleep you got last night, or the number of calories you need to burn to reach your goal. What Fitbit can’t do is put any of that data into context or offer proactive advise, like telling you it’s time to go to bed. It’s a standout skill, one of the best of 2016, but it is by no means a coach.

For food and cooking, the Allrecipes skill has more 60,000 recipes. You can ask for a certain recipe or just tell the skill what ingredients you have on hand, and it will tell you what you can create. If you like a recipe, you can ask the skill to send it to your Alexa app.

For meal tracking and nutritional data about more than 20,000 different foods, try the Track by Nutritionix Alexa skill.

Manage your personal finances

If your goal this year is to be smart with your money, you may want to start with a little subscription spring cleaning. Trim scans your bank account to find your subscriptions, and if you choose to jettison any of them, will take care of it for you. Doing so has helped people save millions of dollars since the bot launched earlier this year, CEO amd cocreator Thomas Smyth told VentureBeat in a phone interview.

Trim was one of the few Facebook Messenger bots highlighted this year by the Messenger team, both on the company’s blog and in the recommended bots section in the search function on Messenger.

Trim also has a chatbot with the ability to negotiate a lower payment with Comcast, a company with a reputation for the absolute worst customer service. To keep your blood pressure in check, Trim lets you play Snake, Tetris, or other games while you watch the bot negotiate your monthly fee.

Also in this category is Kasisto’s MyKAI, an AI assistant for personal finance with the ability to answer more than 1,000 different questions about your money, and financial education in general — everything from “What is stock?” to “How much did I spend eating out last week?” KAI Banking has been adopted by banks in Singapore, Canada, and India, as well as by the startup Varo Money and soon MasterCard.

Digit is another awesome automation option for your personal finances. In September, Digit CEO Ethan Bloch said his company has helped people save $230 million thus far. It uses an algorithm to figure out how much money it can put into a savings account based on your spending habits, so that saving money has as little bite as possible. Bloch wondered aloud why every bank doesn’t offer this service, and I’m starting to wonder the same.

Improve your career

If your New Year’s resolution is work-oriented, you may want to consider CareerLark. This Slack bot solicits brief feedback from your manager and is designed to improve your talents and skills.

Are you a project manager or executive? You might want to consider Polly or Growbot. Polly gives you the ability to poll your team and get their opinions on things like team happiness and product quality. From former Microsoft engineers, Polly is the most popular bot in the Slack app directory. It is also one of a handful of startups championed by Slack, and it was the first bot referenced at the launch of Microsoft Teams last month.

Growbot makes it easy to give kudos to an employee for a job well done. Those kudos, in the form of emojis, can add up to bonuses, like Uber rides.

The common trait between CareerLark, Polly, and Growbot is that all three practice some kind of micro-feedback, asking employers, managers, or teammates to take a minute out of their day to recognize a coworker. If part of the purpose of the Slack bot platform is to create positive company culture, these bots fit the bill.

Just maintain

Finally, if you’re going to make it through this year, you’re going to need a little chill — or a whole lot, depending on the day.

Enter Pepper:ai, a Facebook Messenger bot that takes your daily emotional temperature, an act that helps you measure your emotional state over time.

There’s also meditation assistant Headspace, which is now available for Google Home.

Tesla faces lawsuit over sudden Model X acceleration

Posted: 31 Dec 2016 03:03 AM PST

A Tesla Motors sign outside the company's showcase store in Seattle, Wash.

(Reuters) — Tesla Motors Inc was sued on Friday by a Model X owner who said his electric SUV suddenly accelerated while being parked, causing it to crash through the garage into owner’s living room, injuring the driver and a passenger.

The Model X owner, Ji Chang Son, said that one night in September, he slowly pulled into his driveway as his garage door opened when the car suddenly sped forward.

“The vehicle spontaneously began to accelerate at full power, jerking forward and crashing through the interior wall of the garage, destroying several wooden support beams in the wall and a steel sewer pipe, among other things, and coming to rest in Plaintiffs’ living room,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, seeks class action status. It cites seven other complaints registered in a database compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) dealing with sudden acceleration without warning.

The lawsuit alleges product liability, negligence and breaches of warranty, and seeks unspecified damages.

Tesla did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

NHTSA did not return a phone call seeking verification.

The luxury Model X, launched in late 2015 X, was Tesla’s first sport utility vehicle.

In its marketing, Tesla claims the Model X is the safest SUV in history.

(Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Leslie Adler)

These were the 10 biggest European tech stories this week

Posted: 30 Dec 2016 11:44 PM PST

european union flag

Happy Friday! This week, tracked 7 technology M&A transactions and 23 tech funding deals totaling €67.7 million ($71.3 million) in Europe, Turkey and Israel. Here’s an overview of the 10 biggest European tech news items for this week:

1) HERE, a digital maps company co-owned by German automotive companies Audi, BMW, and Daimler, has welcomed three Asian companies as new shareholders as it plans to expand in China.

Chinese mapping company NavInfo, Internet services group Tencent (QQ, WeChat etc.) and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC are jointly buying a 10% stake in HERE.

2) Danish eyetracking tech company The Eye Tribe has been acquired by Facebook's Oculus.

3) Snapchat has reportedly made its first Israeli acquisition with the purchase of augmented reality (AR) startup Cimagine for $30-$40 million.

4) Tel Aviv-based database security company Hexatier has reportedly been acquired by Chinese phone manufacturer Huawei. The deal would be Huawei's second acquisition in Israel in the last three weeks and is worth $42 million according to Israeli financial daily Calcalist.

5) Turns out SoundCloud didn't just strike licensing deals with Sony Music, Warner Music and Universal Music in the past, the three music labels also became investors/shareholders of the Berlin company.

6) French cosmetics giant L'Oreal is investing 'several millions of euros' in an early stage fund managed by private equity firm Partech Ventures.

7) UK fintech firm Nutmeg has raised £12 million in a Series D funding round led by Taipei Fubon Bank, Taiwan's second largest financial services firm.

8) Iceland's QuizUp has been sold to Glu Mobile for $7.5 million.

9) Danish eSports agency RFRSH Entertainment has raised €4 million.

10) Russia's national savings bank Sberbank has announced a "strategic agreement" with Sistema, a major Russian conglomerate, and Sistema_VC, the venture arm of Sistema, in the fields of advertising technology and Big Data monetization.

Bonus link: Helsinki is turning an abandoned hospital into a massive startup campus.


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Bill Gates warns world ‘vulnerable’ to deadly epidemic in next decade

Posted: 30 Dec 2016 08:58 PM PST

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates speaks at the Global Citizen Concert to End AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on September 17, 2016.  REUTERS/Geoff Robins/Pool/File Photo - RTX2QEL4

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates warned on Friday that the world was vulnerable to a deadly epidemic of an illness like flu, with the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks underlining weaknesses in global efforts to tackle health crises swiftly.

Gates, whose foundation invests in improving healthcare in developing countries, said the global emergency response system was not strong enough and the ability to create new drugs and vaccines quickly was lacking.

He added that there needed to be more focus on developing treatments for likely epidemics.

“I cross my fingers all the time that some epidemic like a big flu doesn’t come along in the next 10 years,” Microsoft Corp founder Gates told Britain’s BBC radio.

“I do think we will have much better medical tools, much better response, but we are a bit vulnerable right now if something spread very quickly, like a flu, that was quite fatal.”

But Gates defended the World Health Organization (WHO) over widespread criticism of its handling of the 2014 Ebola crisis that killed thousands in west Africa, saying the agency was neither funded, nor staffed, to meet all the expectations.

He also raised concerns over growing antimicrobial resistance to drugs, saying the success of antibiotics had created complacency.

The misuse and overuse of antibiotics is accelerating antimicrobial resistance which is already complicating efforts to treat tuberculosis, HIV and malaria.

Gates said richer countries must help developing nations tackle disease, both for humanitarian reasons and for their own self-interest.

He said international co-operation had almost succeeded in wiping out polio, which remains endemic only in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If there are no new cases in the next three years polio will become the second human disease to be eradicated after smallpox in 1980.

“We’re very close. Hopefully, the last case will be sometime next year,” Gates said.

(By Emma Batha. Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

Outlook for Android and iOS now supports shared calendars

Posted: 30 Dec 2016 07:01 PM PST

Outlook for Android.

A Microsoft employee today confirmed that the company has added support for shared calendars, a long-requested feature, in its Outlook app for iOS. The feature is also available on Outlook for Android, as well as Microsoft’s Calendar app for Windows 10.

It’s not complete, but the core functionality is live now, as Microsoft senior program manager Julia Foran explained in a post on Outlook for iOS’ UserVoice page. (Hat tip to MSPoweruser for reporting on the news.)

In order to view shared calendars on Android or iOS, you’ll need to share and accept calendars from Outlook on the web first, Foran wrote.

“If you’re sharing with edit access, at this point you’ll need to wait a little after initially accepting before you can edit the calendar,” Foran wrote. “The updates are only available for view & edit permissions and coming soon for delegated permissions. Those are the big things we’re finishing in addition to adding ability to share/accept from any Outlook application.”

Google Calendar for Android and iOS both let users view shared calendars, and Apple lets iCloud users share calendars through the Calendar app for iOS.

Earlier this year Microsoft enhanced Outlook with the Interesting Calendars feature that was previously part of Sunrise.

CEO of German auto supplier says jobs will be lost in shift to electric cars

Posted: 30 Dec 2016 05:04 PM PST

Elmar Degenhart, CEO of Germany's Continental AG  speaks during the 'International CAR Symposium' in Bochum January 29, 2013. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

(Reuters) — The shift to electric vehicles will cost jobs at German automotive supplier Continental, its chief executive told a newspaper, but he said many of those jobs would be offset by new positions related to electro-mobility.

“Due to the low added value, production jobs will be lost,” German weekly paper Welt am Sonntag quoted Elmar Degenhart as saying in a summary of an article to be published on Sunday.

He said it was too soon to say whether the number of jobs that would be lost would be bigger or smaller than the number of new positions created.

“There is enough time to design the process such that the blow is softened and major pain can be avoided,” he said.

Some 30,000 of 218,000 jobs at Continental are dependent on combustion engines, the paper said.

Continental said last month it would increase spending on electric-car components in coming years but expects to avert any major impact on its earnings through additional sales from new R&D projects.

(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; editing by Susan Thomas)

Pokémon Sun and Moon and Final Fantasy XV were Amazon’s holiday best sellers

Posted: 30 Dec 2016 04:42 PM PST

Pokemon Sun and Moon E3 2016 07

A lot of you are having fantastical and monstrous holidays.

Pokémon Sun and Moon for the 3DS and Final Fantasy XV for PlayStation 4 were Amazon’s best-selling games of the holiday, according to the online retailer. This is in line with Nintendo confirming that this new pocket-monster adventure, collectively, is its fastest selling game ever. Final Fantasy XV, meanwhile, was massively anticipated by fans who have spent years waiting for a proper sequel to Final Fantasy XIII. It’s also clear that the Square Enix role-playing game has sold much better on PlayStation 4 than Xbox One in the $99.6 billion gaming industry.

“If each customer who purchased Pokémon Sun and Moon this holiday spent at least an hour a day playing the game since its release, our customers would have spent the equivalent of more than 24 thousand lunar cycles capturing Pokémon.”

It’s not obvious how Amazon calculated that, but it’s clear that would take millions of Pokémon players. In 2017, we will likely see a new Pokémon from Nintendo — possibly a classic remake or a third version of Sun and Moon (Stars?), and we’ll have to see if the publisher pulls the trigger on releasing it for its new hybrid handheld/home console Switch or keeps it on the 3DS that has a much larger install base.

Voice search is different, not better

Posted: 30 Dec 2016 04:10 PM PST

Voice search is frustrating

Hey Siri, is voice search really that big of a deal?


Searching the web for “is voice search really that big of a deal?”

Tech pundits and marketing gurus are already lauding voice search as the most disruptive advertising technology since the advent of the smartphone. The incorporation of voice search in our daily lives will undoubtedly increase in the coming years, and this proliferation of voice-activated technology will likely make our lives easier, but it is not yet certain that voice search will be an effective vehicle for advertising. In fact, in the rush to name voice search as the next great hope in digital advertising, we may have collectively overlooked a host of challenges that will likely temper its rise.

Technical challenges

We are currently exiting the nascent phase of voice search. As a society, we’ve been interacting with automated voice command programs for a little over a decade. Traditionally, automated voice has been clunky at best, but current technology has evolved enough to make true voice search a viable possibility, and now advertisers are scrambling to keep up.

Most early voice search implementation types will function in a way that is similar to existing text search. In these instances, advertiser strategy remains the same, and budgets must be adjusted to accommodate voice search query volume, in whatever forms they might take. However, the forms of voice search that are most desirable from a consumer perspective are the most challenging from an advertiser perspective.

Consider the following examples:

1. Hey Siri, how far can the new Tesla go?
Looking… Here’s what I found on the web for “how far can the new Tesla go?”

2. Alexa, please play “The Jungle Book” movie in the kitchen.

3. Cortana, I need a flight to Los Angeles.

4. Siri, can you get me an Uber home?

Examples 1 and 3 are standard web searches with an extra step: voice recognition. The search engine result page remains the same, and the user needs to interact with a screen to use the search feature. In Example 3, consumers are used to seeing every available option when shopping for a flight, and it is highly unlikely that a voice response or one-off action would be helpful in this scenario. From an advertising perspective, this type of voice search is only a slightly different form of search query that must be matched and priced accordingly. It’s an implementation type, not a game changer.

Examples 2 and 4 are fundamentally different from existing search, but these instances only apply to brands with pre-existing customers, such as a subscription video service or a car service app. This type of concierge search will be a boon to a handful of specific business models, but will not make a huge difference in terms of conquesting or awareness campaigns.

Granted, if the user in Example 4 did not have a subscription to Uber, this would create an advertising opportunity for Uber, Lyft, and any other competitors, but absent a completely new audio implementation strategy, the UX of those ads will not be very different from existing web search and app install search.

The ideal voice search scenario facilitates a hands-free conversation between man and machine, but this holy grail of voice search, from a consumer perspective, is years away. This type of exchange relies on two technologies that are currently far from perfect — natural language search and voice recognition — as well as one branch of technology that’s not even close — artificial intelligence.

In the near future, even with hypothetically advanced AI, most ads will still need a screen. Hands-free visual advertising requires widespread adoption of wearable augmented reality, and judging by Google Glass’ recent failure, this is unlikely in the immediate future. Likewise, we can’t expect voice-activated audio advertising to have a performance profile that’s significantly different than existing audio ads.

The only plausible counterargument would be an automated app install, signup, and payment system. This is what many of the larger tech players are working on right now. If a user could vocally agree to sign up for Uber, then we might see true voice search pose a threat to text search, but I don’t foresee a hard vocal conversion in the near future.

Social limitations

Much of the current excitement about voice search depends on the assumption that people will actually like it. Currently, one third of Americans prefer texting to a voice call, and 75 percent of millennials prefer texting. We’ve become accustomed to expressing thought through our thumbs. Why should a new technology with questionable user experience change this?

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the voice search user experience has improved to the point that people actually want to use it: minimal frustrating interactions; minimal mistakes; a seamless natural conversation. Even in this scenario, we have to acknowledge that there will be certain situations where people will not want to search aloud. People will certainly feel comfortable utilizing voice search in the comfort of their cars or homes, but voice search will likely not become the norm for public social behavior. Texting has become preferable to voice calls largely because text allows us to conduct private conversations in very public spaces. Most user searches are private experiences. Even if we perfect voice search, it’s not likely to replace text search in the near future.

The social limitations of voice search are a bit more subjective, and while some may dismiss the above points as conjecture, I think it’s helpful to view any new technical innovation with a healthy dose of skepticism. The fact is, we don’t really know that people will like voice search. From an advertising perspective, this is critical. If a new technology doesn’t fundamentally change the way customers shop and interact with brands, it can hardly be considered disruptive.

In order for voice search to truly revolutionize advertising, we will need to develop some sort of algorithmic native audio advertising, coupled with voice activated conversions. It’s plausible, but there are a lot of technical and user experience hurdles in the interim.

So, is voice search really that big of a deal?

Perhaps, but you shouldn’t plan on changing your search strategy any time in the near future, because it is going to be a very long time before we can ask Siri this question and receive a spoken response of:

Yes, and here’s why…

CleverPet tries to teach my dog to play a video game

Posted: 30 Dec 2016 02:29 PM PST

Kona tries to Clever Pet.

I’m about to head off to CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas next week. But before I did, I thought I would try out one of the funny products from CES 2016. The Clever Pet billed itself as a video game console for dogs and cats.

The CleverPet Hub debuted for $300 this year as an automated pet feeder and trainer. Your pet — dogs or maybe really smart cats — can do some real work to get their treats or meals. They do so by pawing the lights on the Hub. It’s akin to the old Simon board game.

I tried it out on my dog, Kona. She’s an old dog, at nine years old, so maybe it was a little ambitious of my family to try to teach her some new tricks. She certainly grasped quickly that this machine could give her some kibble.

But she didn’t really catch on that she had to paw the lit button in order to get some food. We tried to train her to get used to it. At first, you’re not supposed to hang around the pet while it discovers the Hub. But we couldn’t help it and gathered around her. It was a nice little holiday activity for the family.

After a while, she caught on that she had to hit a button to get some food. But she never really caught on to the light thing. She hit the lit buttons a couple of times, but we think it was by accident.

The idea is to get pets more active. The device is Wi-Fi connected. CleverPet gradually introduces dogs to what they have to do. It’s like a Pavlovian response.

CleverPet Hub keeps dogs engaged when you leave the house, and it reduces their anxiety. You can use it to teach dogs commands. If you say “left” with your recorded voice, the dog can engage the left touch pad.


How voice assistants can provide medical advice

Posted: 30 Dec 2016 02:10 PM PST

Can a bot provide emotional support?

Ben Fox Rubin had a great post in CNET’s CES blog that discussed whether voice assistants were equipped to provide health and emotional support. He starts out by citing a JAMA study from early 2016 that found voice assistants mostly lacking when asked about some basic physical and mental health situations. This highlights two interesting points:

  • What is the purpose of voice assistants?
  • How will services break down between general purpose and specialist voice assistants?

What is the purpose of a voice assistant?

Voice assistants were designed to help execute tasks, remind users of important items, fetch information, and make entertainment more readily accessible. These all require integration with other services to fulfill user needs.

That is a core selling point for Mycroft, an open source voice assistant platform. It is giving away the software, and one of its biggest values is a copious number of third-party integrations. Most of these third parties will also integrate with Amazon and Google offerings because of the scale of these companies and their user bases. If you want control over your own voice assistant, these integrations are critical.

So where are the integrations with applications that can analyze emotions and moods, or that can serve as your on-call doctor? These were simply not the core use cases that voice assistant designers tackled first.

Fetching information is fraught with dependencies

The “fetch information” task is particularly onerous for voice interfaces, even though it is a core use case. First, your language engine must properly understand intent. Then, it must locate and return information that provides the best answer.

You may think of search as mature, but how often does Google provide you with the right answer with the first search result? How often is that second, third, or later entry a better fit? For health queries like those in the study, the assistant needs to present the best answer first. There is no audio scanning of search results today. You get one and only one answer.

This is particularly challenging in health care, when the most common answer to direct questions is “It depends.” How old are you? What is your medical history? What risk factors are you exposed to? Which of the medical studies with seemingly opposite conclusions should be presented?

When Google Home announced WebMD availability earlier this month, The Verge had this headline: “Google Home is going to help you misdiagnose yourself.” The article included this prescient question:

Clearly the only skill [for Google Home] we care about is WebMD because what could go wrong?

IBM’s Watson has focused its attention on medical diagnoses to assist physicians and not to replace them. It also has been working furiously to ingest and analyze large volumes of information so it can do justice to the complex nature of medicine. It even acquired Merge Healthcare for $1 billion just so it could better understand medical imaging. And the underlying AI has been in development and use for more than a decade.

The consumer-oriented solutions from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple were developed for more mundane tasks and information retrieval with low stakes associated with errors. It’s not surprising that these solutions performed inconsistently with higher complexity and higher stakes queries about physical and mental health.

Generalist versus specialist approaches

Then you have solutions like It uses a voice assistant to help users record their medical information and access appropriate answers to health questions. is also an assistant to health care providers looking to stay better connected to their patients.

The solution doesn’t address home automation, cooking instructions, or simple math problems. The technology behind almost certainly could be extended to these everyday tasks, but that is not its purpose. It is designed to interact solely around health and wellness topics. It is a specialist voice assistant and is unlikely to be replaced by something like Alexa anytime soon.

Where we are headed

The fact that people want to ask voice assistants about health questions speaks to the power of the voice interface and the expert implementation of voice user experiences. Users just assume they can or should talk to their voice assistant as if it were a wise and understanding human. That leads them to confess their feelings and ask about personal health topics even to an inanimate device sitting in their kitchen.’s director of user experience, Cathy Pearl, commented in a Voicebot interview this month that the specialist solution goes even further in making a connection:

We have some patients that get really attached to the avatar [voice assistant]. There is a daily check-in and we have a good compliance rate because people feel accountable to the avatar. Some patients will apologize to the avatar if they miss a check-in. They will share information about their day. This is important to compliance.

Developers deliberately attempted to make their voice assistants more human-like. The result is that we treat them more like humans. Personal connections or at least personal conversations with voice assistants are the inevitable outcome. However, we don’t ask our doctor for cooking instructions or a chef for medical advice. Voice assistants have some super-human qualities, but we shouldn’t expect generalists to compete effectively with specialists for some time to come, particularly in health care.

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