Alexa Learns to Talk Like a Human With Whispers, Pauses, and Emotion

TechCrunch/MSN, 4/29/2017

Amazon is furthering the humanization of its virtual assistant Alexa by equipping it with more emotion functionality. Developers can use a markup language called Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) that allows for the coding of Alexa’s intonation, emphasis, and region-specific responses. This opens up new possibilities for app companies and how their virtual assistants are used in the world.

Improving Traffic Safety With a Crowdsourced Traffic Violation Reporting App

KAIST, 4/10/2017

Professor Uichin Lee and a research team at KAIST have developed and tested an app called Mobile Roadwatch. Mobile Roadwatch is a crowdsourced app that helps drivers record traffic violations with their phones and report them to the police. Professor Lee and his team aim to provide a safer way to capture and report traffic violations while operating a vehicle, in hopes that the reports will improve public safety.

Cyborgs at Work: Employees Get Implanted With Microchips

CBS News/AP, 4/3/2017

Epicenter, a Swedish startup, is implanting microchips into their employees as replacements for swipe cards. Using Near Field Communication (NFC), the microchips provide identifying data to devices such as printers and doors, providing more convenience to employees. This technology has never before used for such a broad group of people; demonstrating that it can be beneficial in the workplace suggests that it may quickly become more widely used, despite security and privacy risks.

As Congress Repeals Internet Privacy Rules, Putting Your Options in Perspective

National Public Radio, 3/28/2017

Rules made in October by the Federal Commercial Commission (FCC) are expected to be overturned by Congress and President Trump. These rules would have regulated how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) collected and used data from users, by giving users more control over what information ISPs collect. This rule set would not apply to websites and app providers, like Facebook or Google. However, critics of the overturn argue that it is much more difficult for users to choose to avoid ISPs if they do not wish to be tracked.

Startup Matroid Uses AI to Pluck Images From Streams of Video

MSN/Bloomberg News, 3/26/2017

Reza Zadeh, a professor at Stanford University, has begun an artificial intelligence (AI) startup called Matroid whose software can detect specific people or objects in video streams. The user specifies what they are looking for, using example images and video or preset options, and the algorithms find corresponding people or objects in different videos. This approach could prove useful for businesses, law enforcement, and political and social science.

Protecting Web Users’ Privacy

MIT News, 3/23/2017

MIT and Stanford University researchers are developing Splinter, an encryption system that hides online database queries. Splinter splits up and encrypts the request for data, sending subparts of the query to different database servers. The user’s computer organizes the returned data to determine the answer. The researchers seek to protect a user’s sensitive information as it travels through the Internet, and in some cases to keep the database systems themselves from knowing who’s searching for what.

New Internet Security Device Launched to Safeguard Schools Against Child Abuse

Plymouth University, 2/20/2017

The University of Plymouth has developed ICAlert, an easy-to-install device that monitors network traffic and sends alerts if users try to access dangerous web content (such as child pornography or terrorist sites). They aim to make browsing safer for children and teens by providing the devices and software to schools at a low cost.

Tech Companies Are Building Tiny, Personal AIs to Keep Your Messages Private

Quartz, 2/10/2017

Technology companies, such as Facebook and Google, are developing artificial intelligence systems (AI) for mobile devices to improve the privacy of messaging applications. New AI innovations allow algorithms that need less computing power, and can therefore be implemented locally on mobile devices. This means that information would not be sent to and from the cloud, reducing potential security issues.

Mobile Phone and Satellite Data to Map Poverty

University of Southampton, 2/07/2017

Researchers, led by WorldPop at University of Southampton and Flowminder Foundation, have developed a way to measure poverty levels in Bangladesh. They combine anonymous mobile phone data, such as data usage and distances traveled by the phone’s user, with satellite sensor data such as use of electric lights. They hope to provide more precise data about poverty levels to help governments and relief organizations combat poverty.

Twitter Data Could Improve Subway Operations During Big Events

University at Buffalo News Center, 1/26/2017

Research performed at the University at Buffalo has suggested that the swelling of subway usage during large events correlates closely with increases in Twitter activity. The Twitter data, which can be filtered by location and content, could potentially become a cost-effective aid to event planning and transit scheduling for crowded occasions.

Private Medical Data Is For Sale – and It’s Driving a Business Worth Billions

The Guardian, 1/10/017

Private medical data is a multi-million dollar industry that is growing rapidly, according to Adam Tanner at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. When medical data is initially sold to big data miners, it may be referred to only by unidentifiable numbers. However, data miners can re-identify patients by cross-referencing the medical data with data collected from other sources.