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Election, Montana, Hey Jerry: 1,000 Words That Trigger Alexa, Siri, Google, Cortana

Image for representation. (Photo: Reuters)

Image for representation. (Photo: Reuters)

The researchers have concluded that this is likely a deliberate engineering design to make for smooth end-user response. However, this also appears to make for privacy concerns.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: July 2, 2020, 6:58 PM IST
  • Edited by: Shouvik Das

With more users taking to voice activated devices with assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft Cortana (the latter on a much smaller scale), a group of researchers from Ruhr-Universitat Bochum and the Max Planck Institute for Cyber Security and Privacy in Germany has claimed to have identified over 1,000 words that seem to accidentally trigger a response from each of these assistants. The study directly ties into privacy concerns regarding such speakers, which have time and again been noted to be listening in on private or sensitive conversations by being accidentally called to action with a wrong call phrase. Now, the researchers behind this study believe that this is a deliberate engineering design that has been done to keep smart home products more responsive, rather than resistive.

To uncover this, the researchers placed these speakers in a room and played runs of popular TV shows such as Game of Thrones, House of Cards and Modern Family. While these shows were being played, the researchers took note of every time the light came on for any of these smart speakers, thereby signifying that they were called to action. They would then roll back and play the sequences that appeared to trigger these speakers, and take note of specific words that were activating these products, as part of a very interesting study that may throw light on necessary improvements that are desperately required in smart home products with embedded microphone, connectivity, AI and voice recognition capabilities.

For Amazon’s Alexa, the research found that the intelligent assistant was being activated by commonly used words such as ‘unacceptable’, ‘election’, ‘a letter’ and ‘tobacco’. Apple’s Siri appeared to respond to phrases such as ‘a city’ and ‘hey Jerry’. Google Assistant, which is present in every Android smartphone today, as well as Google’s host of smart home hardware, responded to phrases such as ‘OK cool’ and ‘OK, who’s reading?’. Microsoft’s Cortana, meanwhile, would also respond to being called ‘Montana’.

While some of the accidental call phrases are outright funny but still understandable, it represents a security concern that these keywords may trigger the speakers into recorded unexpected bits of everyday conversations. This created considerable furore when it was uncovered that each of Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft employed third party human contractors, alongside their AI model, to vet snippets of audio recordings scrolled from these speakers, ‘for quality monitoring purposes’. While all of the companies have since vouched that they are no longer employing humans or outsourcing their work, having smart speakers activate in situations where they are not deliberately called still makes for a serious security breach.


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Realme 5i, Realme 6 Price Hiked in India By Rs 1,000: Here's How Much You Need to Pay

The Realme 5i was launched in India at a price range of Rs 8,999, while the Realme 6 arrived in the country at Rs 12,999 for the base model.

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Tech

Google is Giving Every Employee $1000 Allowance to Buy Laptops And More For Work From Home

Google is Giving Every Employee $1000 Allowance to Buy Laptops And More For Work From Home

This could include computing device, work furniture, peripherals and accessories as well as any other equipment required to make work from home smoother and more comfortable.

  • Last Updated: May 27, 2020, 9:28 AM IST

Even as Google, along with pretty much every company in the world, finetunes its strategy to balance the work from home and return to work formats for employees, the company has announced that every Googler will get $1000 as an allowance to buy anything they need to make the work from home situation more comfortable for them. This will most likely include computers and laptops for those who may not have a very good computing device on their hands at the moment, furniture such as a computer table or equipment that helps while working from home.

“Because we still expect that most Googlers will be largely working from home for the rest of this year, we’ll be giving each Googler an allowance of $1,000 USD, or the equivalent value in your country, to expense necessary equipment and office furniture,” says Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, in an email sent to all Google employees. This allowance will most certainly ease the burden on employees as they work from home and have to buy necessary hardware. And it also helps boost morale of employees in these tough times, in the sense that they can be reassured that the company is looking out for them. Depending on what all you need, it may not cover everything, but $1000 will be a big help nevertheless.

Google is also working on the roadmap that should see them re-open more offices in more cities around the world by July 6, depending on local conditions, and is looking at around 10% occupancy in each. “This will give Googlers who need to come back to the office—or, capacity permitting, who want to come back—the opportunity to return on a limited, rotating basis,” says Pichai. Google will have rigorous health and safety measures in place to ensure social distancing and sanitization guidelines.

Pichai does talk about the Google work culture and how chance encounters in office helped develop some of the best ideas but is also factoring in the current global situation amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. “Moving ahead, we are looking to develop more overall flexibility in how we work. Our campuses are designed to enable collaboration and community—in fact, some of our greatest innovations were the result of chance encounters in the office—and it’s clear this is something many of us don’t want to lose,” he says. “At the same time, we are very familiar with distributed work as we have many offices around the world and open-minded about the lessons we’ll learn through this period,” he adds.




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Tech

This Black Hole is Just 1000 Light Years Away From Earth, The Closest One Known as Yet

Wide-field view of the region of the sky where HR 6819 is located (Image: ESO)

Wide-field view of the region of the sky where HR 6819 is located (Image: ESO)

The ESO says that the hidden black hole in HR 6819 is one of the very first stellar-mass black holes found that do not interact violently with their immediate environment and, therefore, appear truly black.

  • Last Updated: May 7, 2020, 9:34 AM IST

A new black hole has been discovered, and it is almost as if it is next door. In fact, this is situated just 1000 light years away, and is in the system called HR 6819 in the Constellation Telescopium. This has been discovered by astronomers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO). This discover comes as the team was observing the HR 6819 system as part of a study of double star systems. They were astonished to find that there was a previously undiscovered third body in the HR 6819 system, the black hole. In the system, one star is orbiting the black hole while the other orbits this pair.

“The observations needed to determine the period of 40 days had to be spread over several months. This was only possible thanks to ESO’s pioneering service-observing scheme under which observations are made by ESO staff on behalf of the scientists needing them,” says Dietrich Baade, Emeritus Astronomer at ESO and the co-author of the study. Usually, black holes are discovered by the way they are surrounded by gas and dust, and as they shred this material, high powered signals are emitted which are detected by telescopes. Therefore, this particularly black hole and how it has been discovered, is quite unique.

The ESO says that the hidden black hole in HR 6819 is one of the very first stellar-mass black holes found that do not interact violently with their immediate environment and, therefore, appear truly black. Its presence could only be spotted and the calculations of the mass could only be done by studying the orbit of the star in the inner pair. “An invisible object with a mass at least 4 times that of the Sun can only be a black hole,” says ESO scientist Thomas Rivinius, who led the study.

This is not the end of it. Scientists believe that this particular black hole discovery could actually lead them to confirm a second system, already under observation.

“We realised that another system, called LB-1, may also be such a triple, though we’d need more observations to say for sure,” says Marianne Heida, a postdoctoral fellow at ESO and co-author of the paper. “LB-1 is a bit further away from Earth but still pretty close in astronomical terms, so that means that probably many more of these systems exist.” There is belief that by finding and studying these potential black holes, there can be some understanding about what led to the formation of the rare stars, and how they have evolved since. These rare stars have as much as 8 times the mass of the Sun at the very beginning and they end in a supernova explosion which leaves behind a black hole.

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Tech

Xiaomi True Wireless Earphones at Rs 1,000: New Redmi AirDots 2 Expected Soon

The first generation Mi AirDots. (Representative image)

The first generation Mi AirDots. (Representative image)

The Redmi AirDots 2 may rival the Realme Buds Air, and hence come with features such as touch controls and low latency mode.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: April 10, 2020, 1:56 PM IST

With true wireless earphones growing steadily in popularity, Xiaomi had already unveiled its first tryst at it, with the Redmi AirDots. Now, after the first edition never making it to India, Xiaomi is rumoured to be working on yet another pair of true wireless earphones, expectedly called Redmi AirDots 2. The earphones were spotted on a Bluetooth certification site by 91mobiles, and comes with Bluetooth 5.0, which is what would be expected from any product worth a look at, in this category.

Not a lot is known about the Redmi AirDots 2 in terms of technical details. General speculations suggest that despite its super low budget pricing, the Redmi AirDots 2 may come with features such as low latency mode, fast pairing, and touch-based gesture inputs to control music, calls and virtual assistants. Since this is a new generation product, Xiaomi may also choose to upgrade the 7.2mm dynamic driver that was used in the original AirDots, which should make for some difference in the overall audio performance as well.

While the set of features will be interesting to look out for, the key takeaway for the Redmi AirDots lineup is its pricing. The first generation Redmi AirDots true wireless earphones from Xiaomi was priced at a mere CNY 99, which translates to about Rs 1,000 in India. While the first generation AirDots did not launch in India, the market now has a decent appetite for true wireless earphones, especially those price in the budget segment. More importantly, Xiaomi’s prime industry rival Realme drew first blood by launching the Realme Buds Air in India, at a competitive price of Rs 3,999.

As a result, even if Xiaomi brings in the Redmi AirDots 2 at a premium, a pair of true wireless earphones priced at around the Rs 2,000 bracket with a set of premium features from India’s biggest smartphone brand is sure to draw eyeballs. With the Bluetooth certification for the product now bagged, it remains to be seen when Xiaomi may launch the device, and if it does decide to bring it to India. While under normal circumstances a launch may have been expected soon, the coronavirus pandemic may lead to any potential launch being postponed.

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Tech

Google Earth View Has 1,000 New Satellite Photos of Earth That You Can Get for Free

Google has made the biggest update to its coveted wallpaper collection in Earth View by adding over 1,000 new photos to the collection. After this addition, the total number of images in the collection has crossed 2,500. These images are available to the public, and can be downloaded for being used as wallpapers on any of your devices, for free. All the images available on Google Earth View are in high resolution, and have a huge variety of different landscapes from all over the world.

These images can be accessed through the Earth View Gallery, or Google’s Earth View Chrome extension. Google states that the photographs are optimised for high resolution screens, with brighter colours, resolutions of up to 4K and high sharpness. Another feature that has been included is a nifty colour map, which allows users to visualise the thousands of Earth View locations, and find a landscape in a colour scheme of their choice.

The official blog post by Google further reveals its collaboration with Ubilabs for enabling these Earth View photographs to be available to the public. “Together over the past several years, we’ve refined a set of tools that help us scour 36 million square miles of satellite imagery, while maintaining fine camera control to get just the right shot. To prepare the final image, we optimize the color profile for the particular landscape, and export the final image in ultra-high resolution,” the company said in the blog.

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Tech

Facebook to Hire 1,000 People This Year in the UK

Facebook will hire 1,000 people in London this year in roles such as product development and safety as it continues to grow its biggest engineering centre outside the United States after Britain leaves the European Union. Over half of the new jobs will be in technology, including software engineering and data science, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Nicola Mendelsohn said in an interview.

Other roles will be in the “community integrity” team, which makes products to detect and remove harmful content from platforms like Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. Mendelsohn said London’s appeal was not only in its technology ecosystem but also the strength of its creative industries. She said that while Facebook’s enthusiasm for London was undimmed, like other tech companies it wanted certainty about Brexit.

“The Johnson government has been very clear about what that looks like, and so we will continue to invest here in London,” she said. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Facebook’s growth was “great news”. “We are committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, alongside being one of the best places for technology companies to be based,” he said.

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg will announce the new jobs, which will take its total UK employees to more than 4,000, on Tuesday before travelling to the World Economic Forum in Davos with Mendelsohn, where they will meet global leaders, regulators and other business chiefs. The company is trying to rebuild trust in its platforms after the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, in which a British political consulting firm collected data from Facebook for voter profiling and targeting.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s public affairs chief and a former British politician, said on Monday that the company will do a better job of preventing bad actors from manipulating this year’s US presidential election than it did four years ago. Mendelsohn said the trust would take time to rebuild. “We also understand that this is an ongoing important conversation – we want to be part of that conversation,” she said. “We want to be working with policymakers in this area to get to thoughtful policy.”

Facebook has commissioned research to show the economic benefits its platforms bring to businesses in Europe. The study by Copenhagen Economics, which questioned 7,7320 businesses across 15 countries, estimated Facebook apps helped create 208 billion euros ($230 billion) of economic value last year. “When you extrapolate that further, what you see is that has resulted in 3.1 million jobs in Europe as a result of people utilizing our platforms,” Mendelsohn said.

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Tech

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Foldable Phone May be Priced Under $1000

The Samsung Galaxy Z flip phone is likely to be powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC, a 3,300mAh battery, and support 15W fast charging.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Foldable Phone May be Priced Under $1000
Samsung Galaxy Z flip phone

(Image: 91 mobiles)

Samsung’s upcoming foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Flip, which is scheduled to be launch on February 11 at the company’s Unpacked Event may come at a less than expected price. The phone was earlier rumoured to come at a price of $1000, but now a report claims that the phone might cost somewhere between $860 to $1300. As per an insider, the price of the device has not been ascertained, added the report.

The upcoming device is being seen as a comeback of flip phones alongside the recently announced Moto Razr. Certain reports suggest that the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip will probably not have the thinnest bezels around the display and when it comes to design it will not be ‘revolutionary.’ In terms of camera, the smartphone is likely to house two exterior cameras and a single front-facing unit.

Some reports suggest that the phone will be powered by last year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC and has apparently made its way to China’s 3C certification database, disclosing that it will come with a 15W charger in the box, which could also imply that the device could support 15W fast charging. The phone will most likely house a 3,300mAh battery.