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Big Revolution - Solving smart assistants' human problem

Welcome to Friday's newsletter, folks! — Martin from Big Revolution
August 2 · Issue #487 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Friday’s newsletter, folks!
— Martin from Big Revolution

Big things you need to know today
  • US food delivery firm DoorDash is buying rival Caviar from Square in a $410m deal.
The big thought
Who's listening? Credit: Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash
Who's listening? Credit: Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash
Solving smart assistants’ human problem
If you’re freaked out by the idea of your conversations with Siri or Google Assistant being listened to a human, the news that Apple has suspended this practice worldwide, and Google has done so in the EU for at least three months, will be welcome.
The tech giants have taken these steps following recent news stories that contractors who check the quality of the service these assistants offer have heard sensitive things like sex, drug deals or private medical information.
Google is facing a data protection investigation about the practice of passing recordings to contractors (potentially a GDPR violation), and the likes of Amazon, and Microsoft must be considering their next steps too.
The fact is though, that you can’t have a good quality voice assistant without some human input at the assistant’s end occasionally . Tech companies need to check the quality of of their assistants’ output using real-world examples. Without that, the assistants will likely become less ‘smart’ and useful for some users over time.
How might this be resolved? Not using contractors, and instead having direct employees do the listening could solve technical data protection issues, but what about the 'creepy factor?’ The fact that humans listen at all is a dealbreaker for some users.
Apple says it will in the future give users the option to opt into the process it calls 'grading.’ That’s one solution, and one we may see replicated elsewhere. It doesn’t necessarily tells users which recordings have been listened too, though.
Another solution would be for users to actively choose to send a recording to quality assurance each time they’re not happy with a result, but not many users would remember to do that, even if they’d be okay with it in principle. The other option would be for assistant to speak up and ask the user for permission each time one of their recordings is selected for listening. But how many people would say yes?
Whatever the eventual solution, it’s likely to break the illusion that there’s a super-smart assistant sitting inside that box in your kitchen.
One big read
Americans Are Making Phone Farms to Scam Free Money From Advertisers Americans Are Making Phone Farms to Scam Free Money From Advertisers
“Ordinary Americans are using armies of phones to generate cash to buy food, diapers, and beer through ad fraud.”
One big tweet
Facial recognition… at the bar?
Rachel Coldicutt
“The software, more commonly used by police and airport security, has been deployed in a cocktail bar in the City to ensure customers are first-come-first-serves.” Nope nope nope nope
4:33 PM - 1 Aug 2019
That’s all for today...
Back tomorrow with your big weekend reads.
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