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Day: August 13, 2019

Google details AI work behind Project Euphonia’s more inclusive speech recognition

Google details AI work behind Project Euphonia’s more inclusive speech recognition

August 13, 2019

As part of new efforts toward accessibility, Google announced Project Euphonia at I/O in May: An attempt to make speech recognition capable of understanding people with non-standard speaking voices or impediments. The company has just published a post and its paper explaining some of the AI work enabling the new capability.

The problem is simple to observe: The speaking voices of those with motor impairments, such as those produced by degenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), simply are not understood by existing natural language processing systems.

You can see it in action in the following video of Google research scientist Dimitri Kanevsky, who himself has impaired speech, attempting to interact with one of the company’s own products (and eventually doing so with the help of related work Parrotron):

The research team describes it as following:

ASR [automatic speech recognition] systems are most often trained from ‘typical’ speech, which means that underrepresented groups, such as those with speech impairments or heavy accents, don’t experience the same degree of utility.

…Current state-of-the-art ASR models can yield high word error rates (WER) for speakers with only a moderate speech impairment from ALS, effectively barring access to ASR reliant technologies.

It’s notable that they at least partly blame the training set. That’s one of those implicit biases we find in AI models that can lead to high error rates in other places, like facial recognition or even noticing that a person is present. While failing to include major groups like people with dark skin isn’t a mistake comparable in scale to building a system not inclusive of those with impacted speech, they can both be addressed by more inclusive source data.

For Google’s researchers, that meant collecting dozens of hours of spoken audio from people with ALS. As you might expect, …

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Would you rent out your living room for a few hours? This startup is counting on it

Would you rent out your living room for a few hours? This startup is counting on it

August 13, 2019

Recharge, a startup that tried convincing hotels to let its customers rent their rooms by the hour and even minute, has revamped and rebranded. Now Globe, the company is hoping to convince guests to sign up for short stays instead in people’s homes so that they can kick back between other commitments, and, if the host allows it, to shower and nap.

It’s at once crazy sounding and intriguing, which is perhaps why the popular accelerator program Y Combinator accepted the company into its most recent class of companies. (It shows off its newest batch of startups next week.) YC was famously early to spy the opportunity that Airbnb could chase, after all. The question is whether Globe, which likens itself to an Airbnb for day breaks, will have anywhere near the same appeal.

Its proposition is certainly similar. Home owner or renter wrings out some extra income by renting out all or part of their home, except that unlike with Airbnb, where the minimum stay is at least one night, with Globe, a host rents out his or her space for smaller increments of time.

In a world where the economic divide continues to grow between the haves and have-nots, it’s easy to see the logic in maximizing an underutilized asset — even one’s living room — in order to live more comfortably. It’s especially easy to see the logic in prohibitively expensive cities like San Francisco and New York.

At the same time, letting in a stranger — even a “businessperson” — for a shorter period of time is not going to be a no-brainer for many people who might otherwise rent their home while away for a weekend. And on the other side of the marketplace, getting enough hosts with nice enough places to become …

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Confidence: The currency of acceleration

Confidence: The currency of acceleration

August 13, 2019

Imagine you’re a billionaire starting a new company. You’re happy to bet your entire fortune on it. As a result, capital is no constraint. How fast should you burn money?

You probably wouldn’t use the generic startup math of dividing your available capital by 18 months and burn $55.5 million a month — though it would be fun. So if capital is no longer the currency that determines how fast you go, what should?

It’s confidence, not capital, that should be the currency of acceleration at a startup — no matter if you have a million dollars or a billion dollars to burn.

Confidence is often misunderstood by those who feign it. It is not bluster or arrogance. It’s not “trusting your gut.” Competitors raising big rounds of funding shouldn’t change your level of confidence one way or the other unless they’re doing exactly what you are. Glowing press coverage helps team morale, but it shouldn’t color your assessment of readiness to scale up.

It’s also important to note that venture capital interest is a terrible proxy for founder confidence. VCs have different structural incentives than founders; in an easy money environment, placing a big bet in a hot category, backed by a good enough team, is a job well done for a VC. Remember that they have a portfolio of companies, you’ve just got the one.

So what should drive you to scale up spend? There’s no perfect answer, but if you consistently see strong customer response to your product, marketing delivering more qualified leads for less money, sales channels becoming better instrumented and more efficient, LTV expanding with product improvements and lower …

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Y Combinator bets on a startup building a weed breathalyzer for cops

Y Combinator bets on a startup building a weed breathalyzer for cops

August 13, 2019

Y Combinator has kept an eye on cannabis startups over the years, but it’s their latest investment that’s sure to attract the attention of both marijuana users and law enforcement.

SannTek Labs, which is launching with new funding out of Y Combinator’s latest jumbo class of startups, is building a new kind of breathalyzer that can detect blood-alcohol levels but can also determine how much cannabis a person has smoked or otherwise consumed in the past 3-4 hours.

CEO Noah Debrincat say that he wants the startup’s SannTek 315 breath testing device to help officers make stronger “evidence-based decisions” rather than only relying on unsophisticated roadside sobriety tests or blood tests, which can potentially take months to get results for and can lead to false positives by detecting cannabis use that took place several days prior to the test.

The SannTek breathalyzer detects the cannabis molecules in your breath, and gives a police officer a readout that lets them know if you have the drug in your system.

“We are specifically detecting Delta-9 THC, which is the predominant psychoactive component of cannabis,” Debrincat tells TechCrunch. “We understand how that gets into your breath. We understand what it does to you and the impairing side effects. And we know that if people are driving with high concentrations of that in their system, their psycho-motor skills are seriously decreased.”

A young startup building a device that could lead to people being arrested is obviously a pretty high-stakes situation, but Debrincat says they are confident in the tech and there are certifications that they’ll need in order to get the device into law enforcement hands. “The only way that a police officer will buy this is if NHTSA, the National Highway Transportation Safety Association, puts its stamp of approval on it,” Debrincat …

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Xiaomi tops Indian smartphone market for eighth straight quarter

Xiaomi tops Indian smartphone market for eighth straight quarter

August 13, 2019

Xiaomi has now been India’s top smartphone seller for eight straight quarters. The company has become a constant headache for Samsung in the world’s second largest smartphone market as sales have slowed pretty much everywhere else in the world.

The Chinese electronics giant shipped 10.4 million handsets in the quarter that ended in June, commanding 28.3% of the market, research firm IDC reported Tuesday. Its closest rival, Samsung — which once held the top spot in India — shipped 9.3 million handsets in the nation during the same period, settling for a 25.3% market share.

Overall, 36.9 million handsets were shipped in India during the second quarter of this year, up 9.9% from the same period last year, IDC reported. This was the highest volume of handsets ever shipped in India for Q2, the research firm said.

As smartphone shipments slow or decline in most of the world, India has emerged as an outlier that continues to show strong momentum as tens of millions of people purchase their first handset in the country each quarter.

Research firm Counterpoint told TechCrunch that there are about 450 million smartphone users in India, up from about 350 million late last year and 300 million in late 2017. This growth has made India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, the fastest growing market worldwide.

Globally, meanwhile, smartphone shipments declined by 2.3% year-over-year in Q2 2019, according to IDC.

Chinese phone makers Vivo and Oppo, both of which spent lavishly in marketing during the recent local favorite cricket season in India, also expanded their base in the country. Vivo had 15.1% of the local market share, up from 12.6% in Q2 2018, while Oppo’s share grew from 7.6% to 9.7% during the same period. The market share of Realme, which has …

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Facebook transcribed users’ audio messages without permission

Facebook transcribed users’ audio messages without permission

August 13, 2019

“The future is private.” Clearly, Facebook still has a way to go.

Facebook has become the latest tech giant to face scrutiny over its handling of users’ data, following a report that said the social media giant collected audio data and recordings from its users and transcribed it using third-party contractors.

The report came from Bloomberg, citing the contractors who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.

According to the report, the audio came from its Messenger app. The audio conversations were matched against transcriptions to see if they were properly interpreted by the company’s artificial intelligence.

There are several ways that Facebook collects voice and audio data. But the social media giant’s privacy policy makes no clear mention or explanation what it uses audio data for. Bloomberg also noted that contractors felt their work was “unethical” because Facebook “hasn’t disclosed to users that third parties may review their audio.”

The company has long rebuffed claims that Facebook is “not listening” to its users through your phone.

We’ve asked Facebook several questions — including for what reason the audio was transcribed and why users weren’t explicitly told of the third-party transcription — but did not immediately hear back.

Facebook stopped transcribing voice data earlier in August, said spokesperson Joe Osborne.

The social media giant becomes the latest tech company to face questions about its use of third-party contractors and staff to review user audio.

Amazon saw the initial round of flak for allowing contractors to manually review Alexa recordings without express user permission, forcing the company to add an opt-out to its Echo devices. Google also faced heat for allowing human review of audio data, along with Apple, which used contractors to listen to seemingly private Siri recordings. Microsoft also listened to some Skype calls made through …

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Verizon is selling Tumblr to WordPress parent, Automattic

Daily Crunch: Verizon is selling Tumblr

August 13, 2019

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Verizon is selling Tumblr to WordPress.com parent, Automattic

It’s been six years since Yahoo acquired the popular blogging platform for more than $1 billion. Since then, Yahoo was acquired in turn by Verizon, and now Verizon is selling Tumblr for what’s been variously reported as a “nominal” price and “well below $20 million.”

While it may be simplistic to peg the service’s declining value to any single decision, last year’s move to ban pornography has certainly proved disastrous. At least on the surface, Automattic and WordPress seem like they might be a better fit.

2. Snap introduces Spectacles 3, with two HD cameras and 3D effects on Snapchat

Snap isn’t giving up on its Spectacles hardware yet.

3. Postmates to drop IPO filing next month

Despite previous reports indicating the on-demand delivery company is seeking an M&A exit, sources close to the matter say Postmates is on track to complete an initial public offering this year.

4. Announcing the Disrupt SF 2019 agenda

We’ve got a little something for everyone: Space chats with Lockheed Martin’s Marillyn Hewson and Blue Origin’s Bob Smith, a word from Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, a fireside chat with two of 2019’s big VC winners, Ann Miura-Ko and Theresia Gouw, as well as a rare chance to sit down with GV’s David Krane.

5. MasterClass founder launches Outlier, offering online courses for college credit

The classes cost $400 each and feature content specifically shot for online consumption (rather than your standard classroom lectures), with dynamically generated problem sets. And they come with credit from the University of Pittsburgh.

6. Singularity 6

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CBS and Viacom are merging into a combined company called ViacomCBS

CBS and Viacom are merging into a combined company called ViacomCBS

August 13, 2019

In a widely anticipated move, CBS and Viacom have agreed to reunite.

The two media giants split back in 2006, although the Redstone family maintained control through National Amusements, a privately held holding company. Now they’re coming back together in an all-stock merger, creating a new entity with the straightforward-but-ungainly name ViacomCBS.

The move is, in some ways, a concession to a turbulent media environment driving large-scale M&A, with AT&T buying Time Warner and Disney acquiring most of Fox — both deals seen as consolidation in preparation for a streaming-centric future. Similarly, once this deal is done, ViacomCBS is expected to make more acquisitions of its own.

It’s also a victory for Shari Redstone, who’s been pushing for the merger over the opposition of some CBS executives — when CBS CEO Leslie Moonves resigned last year in a scandal over sexual harassment allegations, he also paved the way for this merger.

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish will become CEO of the combined organization, while Joe Ianniello will continue to serve as chief executive at CBS, and Redstone becomes chair of the combined company’s board of directors.

My father once said ‘content is king,’ and never has that been more true than today,” Redstone said in a statement. “Through CBS and Viacom’s shared passion for premium content and innovation, we will establish a world-class, multiplatform media organization that is well-positioned for growth in a rapidly transforming industry.”

Brands owned by ViacomCBS include CBS (obviously), Showtime, Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Paramount Network, as well as the film studio Paramount Pictures.

In their announcement, the companies note that the merger creates a joint content library that includes more than 140,000 TV episodes and 3,600 films, and “reunites fan-favorite franchises such as Star Trek and Mission: Impossible” (which were …

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DirecTV Now’s rebranding to ‘AT&T TV NOW’ is officially rolling out

DirecTV Now’s rebranding to ‘AT&T TV NOW’ is officially rolling out

August 13, 2019

AT&T’s live TV streaming service, DirecTV Now, is getting a new name. The company in July announced that the service would soon be rebranded to AT&T TV NOW at some point later in the summer. The company today confirmed that change is officially rolling out.

The company teased the rebrand’s launch on its Twitter account this afternoon, but didn’t clarify what it meant by “whole new look.” Many assumed the tweet referred to the fact that the DirecTV Now brand — which still remains across all app platforms and social accounts — will finally be removed.

A company spokesperson confirmed the tweet was related to AT&T’s prior announcement of the name change.

That being said, the AT&T DirecTV Now apps haven’t yet been updated in the app stores, so this is the first news that the name change is imminent. (The spokesperson could not speak to the exact timing of the rebrand’s arrival.)

AT&T had previously explained that DirecTV Now customers would see the rebranding go live around the same time that the new AT&T TV service began its pilot testing.

The latter is the company’s new home TV service that doesn’t require a satellite. Instead, it offers live TV and on-demand titles over a broadband connection, plus a cloud DVR, and access to thousands of streaming apps like Netflix and Pandora, as well as a voice remote powered by Google Assistant.

Screen Shot 2019 08 13 at 2.29.47 PMBoth AT&T TV NOW and AT&T TV will utilize the same AT&T TV app on mobile devices and on their TV’s big screen. There will be no change for current DirecTV NOW subscribers beyond needing to re-accept the terms of service to …

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The secret of content marketing: avoid high bounce rates

The secret of content marketing: avoid high bounce rates

August 13, 2019

Advice on content marketing always talks about getting people to your blog.

But, what about once they’re there — how do you get them to then buy from you?

That’s the conversion half of content marketing, and that’s what I’ll cover: converting your readers into paying customers.

First, they read. Then, they buy.

When visitors arrive on your blog, three things should happen:

  1. First, they must start reading — instead of bouncing.
  2. Next, keep should keep reading until at least halfway through.
  3. Finally, they should be enticed to read more or convert: sign up, subscribe, purchase, etc.

Demand Curve’s data shows that when readers complete this full chain of events — as opposed to skipping step #2 — they’re more likely to ultimately buy from you.

Why? People trust your brand more after they’ve consumed your content and deemed you to be high quality and authoritative.

We’ve optimized tens of millions of blog impressions, and we have three novel insights to share in this post. Each will hopefully help compel readers to stick around and buy.

Let’s conquer high bounce rates — the bane of content marketers.

Entice visitors to start reading

First, some obvious advice: Getting visitors to read begins with having a strong intro.

A good intro buys goodwill with readers so they keep reading — and tolerate your boring parts.

There are three components to a good intro:

  1. Have a hook. Read about hooks here.
  2. Skip self-evident fluff. Read
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