AI in Voice Forensics

AI is now so advanced that it can reveal far more about you than a mere fingerprint. By using powerful technology to analyse recorded speech, scientists today can make confident predictions about everything from the speaker’s physical characteristics – their height, weight, facial structure and age, for example – to their socioeconomic background, level of income and even the state of their physical and mental health.

Your voice can give away plenty of environmental information, too. For example, the technology can guess the size of the room in which someone is speaking, whether it has windows and even what its walls are made of. Even more impressively, perhaps, the AI can detect signatures left in the recording by fluctuations in the local electrical grid, and can then match these to specific databases to give a very good idea of the caller’s physical location and the exact time of day they picked up the phone.

One of the leading scientists in this field is Rita Singh of Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute. Interview with Ms. Singh

“World’s First Android”

Assuming this is an early glimpse of one possible future… how do I feel about it? Mixed, I think. If humans still have some evolving to do — and I sure hope we do — it seems likely such evolution will be in this direction. It’s tempting to slap a “good” or “bad” label on this but such value judgements are human tags and I’m starting to find them irrelevant. Perhaps with time and luck, we can make better versions of ourselves.

The people who make the streaming playlists

Good piece from last year on the people who curate playlists for streaming music services:

“As streaming has gone mainstream, these curators, many of whom began their professional lives as bloggers and DJs, have amassed unusual influence. Their work, as a rule, is uncredited — the better for services designed to feel like magic — but their reach is increasingly unavoidable. Spotify says 50% of its more than 100 million users globally are listening to its human-curated playlists (not counting those in the popular, algorithmically personalized “Discover Weekly”), which cumulatively generate more than a billion plays per week. According to an industry estimate, 1 out of every 5 plays across all streaming services today happens inside of a playlist. And that number, fueled by prolific experts, is growing steadily.”

“All the signs point to playlists being the dominant mode of discovery in the near future,” says Jay Frank, senior vice president of global streaming marketing for Universal Music Group, the largest of the major label conglomerates. “When it comes to trying to find something exciting and new, more people are going to want to go to trusted playlists.”

I hope these folks always have a job and I sort of think they will. Not convinced an algorithm can do the voodoo they do.

Echo Look: Hands-Free Camera and Style Assistant

“Using just your voice, easily take full-length photos and short videos with a hands-free camera that includes built-in LED lighting, depth-sensing camera, and computer vision-based background blur. See yourself from every angle with the companion app. Build a personal lookbook and share your photos. Get a second opinion on which outfit looks best with Style Check, a new service that combines machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists. Over time, these decisions get smarter through your feedback and input from our team of experienced fashion specialists.”

Echo Look from Amazon »

Rise of the Robolawyers

From an excellent piece in The Atlantic by Jason Koebler:

In the past year, more than 10 major law firms have “hired” Ross, a robotic attorney powered in part by IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence, to perform legal research. Ross is designed to approximate the experience of working with a human lawyer: It can understand questions asked in normal English and provide specific, analytic answers.

Beyond helping prepare cases, AI could also predict how they’ll hold up in court. Lex Machina, a company owned by LexisNexis, offers what it calls “moneyball lawyering.” It applies natural-language processing to millions of court decisions to find trends that can be used to a law firm’s advantage. For instance, the software can determine which judges tend to favor plaintiffs, summarize the legal strategies of opposing lawyers based on their case histories, and determine the arguments most likely to convince specific judges. A Miami-based company called Premonition goes one step further and promises to predict the winner of a case before it even goes to court, based on statistical analyses of verdicts in similar cases.

A Silicon Valley startup called Legalist offers “commercial litigation financing,” meaning it will pay a lawsuit’s fees and expenses if its algorithm determines that you have a good chance of winning, in exchange for a portion of any judgment in your favor.

A company called Clause is creating “intelligent contracts” that can detect when a set of prearranged conditions are met (or broken). Though Clause deals primarily with industrial clients, other companies could soon bring the technology to consumers. For example, if you agree with your landlord to keep the temperature in your house between 68 and 72 degrees and you crank the thermostat to 74, an intelligent contract might automatically deduct a penalty from your bank account.

The three waves of AI

This might be the best thing I’ve seen on AI. Runs 16 min. Aside from the content presented, I was impressed by the presenter. I would like to know (but will never know) if he was reading from a prompter of some kind. It did not appear so. Could he have memorized that much copy? Again, it looked more extemporaneous. Doesn’t matter, really. I’m just curious. Extremely well done.

Bots are a new medium

Kevin Kelly points us to an interesting piece on bots by John Borthwick. Turns out bots are a bigger thing than I realized, and they’re gonna get a lot bigger.

“Most researchers estimate that during the election cycle, bots made up approximately a quarter of all the online chatter on a particular issue or meme. […] As people understand that accounts aren’t necessarily human, they will start to trust platforms and networks less.”

Mr. Borthwick make reference to Dexter which is (I think) a service that will help you develop a bot for your business (or whatever). You can see my chat session with their demo below. And if you’re feeling a little lonely…

Chat bots are going to become a thing in 2017, as Clem the CEO of Hugging Face, an awesomely interesting chat bot company says, “everyone, one day will have an AI friend”.