Indian consumers will make the voice internet

Voice interaction seems to be an idea, whose time has finally come.

A Space Odyssey, voice recognition has been the holy grail for computer geeks. Speech and language are the first communication technologies, and the main driver of human evolution. But the idea of a voice-activated machine, for information, advice, transactions and, maybe, even friendship, has been a mirage, not a reality, given that speech recognition has been a major challenge.

But voice interaction seems to be an idea, whose time has finally come. Why now? AI advances, using deep neural networks and supporting graphics processing unit (GPU) hardware, have made it possible to train speech engines to reach high accuracy levels, using large amounts of audio data.

And, nowhere is this more relevant than in India. From as long back as the Mahabharata, India has been an oral society, without the West’s history of “type to search” using PCs, which powered the online revolution. Illiteracy, numerous languages, lack of familiarity with multilingual keyboards, mean that other ways of interacting with the digital world are necessary. Affordable smartphones and very cheap data, make India, mobile first. And mobiles are perfect for using voice as a UI!

Last year, 30% of Google search in India was voice driven. Hindi search grew 400% in a single year—a testament to the voracious appetite for online tools and content in local languages. Now, if you are not in vernacular, you are not in India!

Recognising the incredible potential for speech technologies in India, Interspeech, the world’s foremost speech research conference, took place in September in India for the first time. It’s theme: Speech research in multilingual societies in emerging markets! Global leaders in speech discussed the huge potential for voice in India. Hundreds of researchers presented how their flavour of deep neural networks, activation functions and model hyper-parameters, progressed speech research. India’s numerous dialects, accents and languages are a researcher’s utopia—challenges to push the boundaries of speech recognition. Priyanka Chopra advertises hair oil on TV, speaking Hindi and English in a single sentence, or code switching, as its known, in technical parlance. For Indians, it makes perfect sense, but impossible for the mono-lingual British or Americans to understand!

All the global technology behemoths at Interspeech, from Baidu to Google to Facebook and Microsoft, acknowledged the importance of local language speech recognition to reach the next 300 million Indians. E-commerce giants, such as Amazon and Walmart/Flipkart, already know that to realise the Indian market’s potential, targeting the top 10% of English-speaking Indians is not enough.

The local-language Indian audience is the real market! And the race to reach multilingual India has started. Last month, Flipkart acquired, a speech tech start-up, to compete with Amazon’s Alexa, which is five years in the making. Amazon released a Hindi website last week. Google and Microsoft are rolling out their own initiatives in Indian languages.

In supporting Indian users, there is another opportunity—the potential for India to build global speech giants, fuelled by its many languages, dialects and noisy environments. China built its tech giants behind the Great Firewall to exclude American competitors.

India has been open to global technology companies. But with voice, India’s unique challenges (barriers for the faint hearted), could be the “opportunity” for fostering home-grown giants. India has the talent. Indians in India, and globally, are some of the world’s finest speech researchers, and Indian tech entrepreneurs are among the world’s best. Panini, the Sanskrit linguist (approximately 500 BCE), was arguably the world’s first computational linguist.

Indian product companies recognise the opportunity. Some, such as, are making speech tech usable for developers. Others, such as (FlipKart) and Voxta, are building their own recognition engines. Even large Indian corporates are throwing capital at the opportunity and hiring experienced individuals, hoping to short-circuit the learning curve for building speech products.

Either way, the Indian consumer will be the winner! Once, western online users helped fuel the development of internet giants, which became household names. Now India, with its incredible diversity of users—languages, dialects, accents—could be the hothouse for researchers, entrepreneurs, and the capital will come together to build global speech tech giants and a voice internet!


Google’s balloon internet is coming to Kenya in 2019

In order to bring the internet to those who lack it, many of whom live in remote or rural areas where cell towers are uneconomical, a company called Loon is launching balloons into the stratosphere. Owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Loon’s balloons act like beacons. Connectivity is transmitted from the ground to the balloons about 12.5 miles overhead. That signal is then shared among a team of balloons and then beamed back down over a large area.

“It’s easiest to think of them as floating cellphone towers,” a Loon spokesperson told Digital Trends. “Loon works with mobile network operators to extend their networks to unconnected or under-connected communities.”

Loon uses customized launchers to send their balloons into the sky. The balloons then travel up into the stratosphere, where they ride wind currents to get into position. If connectivity is needed in a particular region, the balloons can even navigate on wind currents.

“As an example, during a test in 2016 we rode wind currents from our launch site in Puerto Rico to a testing site in Peru,” the spokesperson said. “Then we remained in the Peruvian airspace for 98 days. To accomplish that, the system made roughly 20,000 altitude adjustments.”

Loon’s latest project will see the balloons take to the sky over Kenya sometime in 2019. Working with Telkom Kenya, the project’s aim is to provide service to people living in rural and mountainous regions, far from cell towers. The mobile networks that partner with Loon will ultimately determine the price of the service.

By providing people with internet, Loon hopes to empower them to build businesses, improve their healthcare, and even increase crop yield. Of course, while access to the internet brings a wealth of knowledge, it also carries risks of misinformation. It’s one thing to give a person the internet. It’s another thing to teach them how to use it.


What exactly are MBs and GBs in internet data bundles?

In this day and age, the internet is everything. We heavily rely on this worldwide infrastructure for almost every aspect of our lives today. Facebook and Twitter for keeping up with friends and family, Skype and a bunch of other apps for video calling, entertainment, you name it, we’re doing it online. I mean even governments have moved on to provide services to the public over the internet. The internet is everything.

If you are using your phone to connect, chances are you have a monthly/weekly or daily data allowance. This is the amount of internet you are allowed before you either have to pay more for access or you’re cut off.

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This is pretty straight-forward for most people but there are many people that wonder, How much is enough, too much or too little when it comes to choosing your smartphone data package?

What is Mobile Data?

Internet tokens/bundles are measured in bytes. That is the unit of measurement. One kilobyte or KB is 1024B. One megabyte MB is 1024kilobytes KB. One gigabyte is 1024MB and so on and so on.

Carriers offer internet bundles in various denominations from as low as 20MB to as high as 100GB. The validity of these bundles also varies from bundle to bundle for economic reasons obviously.

Some carriers go on to offer their heaviest users Unlimited data plans which offer users unrestricted access to the internet with no caps for a given period of time.

How much Data do I need?

So, different tasks on the web require different amounts of data. For instance, text-based emails are usually really light so you don’t really need that much data to clear your Inbox by replying to all those emails you have been putting on hold.

Tasks like video streaming, especially in the higher resolutions, say Full HD 1080p or even 4K are some of the heavier ones. To do this on a mobile plan is often considered a little extravagant. That is why it is recommended that this be done over WiFi or fiber internet as those often offer Unlimited Plans with differences in connection speeds.

That said, below is a nifty little data calculator tool from the good folks over at The tool helps you estimate how far your data allowance will go before you need to consider purchasing a different plan


Tri-Staters react to massive internet, cable outage

When there is snow on the ground, many people want to stay inside and watch their favorite shows on tv or through streaming services.

But that was not possible today for many people in the Tri-State.

Spectrum experienced a mass outage for hours this afternoon, interrupting businesses and people as they went about their day.

Around 2:30 this afternoon parts of the Tri-State plunged into digital darkness.

Workers at Spectrum said the outage was caused by a cut in a fiber optic wire. It terminated internet and cable service for people in areas across Indiana and Kentucky, including right here in the Tri-State.

Business owners and customers talked to eyewitness news about their frustration.

“Thank you, we’ll try to have patience.”

Many of us don’t realize how big a role the internet and tv play in our daily lives until it’s gone.

“We got no phone, or nothing now,” Timothy Flener of Evansville said during the outage.


“You call the number and it’s beep beep beep beep and you know you got a problem, because everyone’s calling them,” said Evansville business owner Clark Exmeyer, owner of Media Management Services.

And annoyance:

“What about the businesses it will impact? And they won’t answer the phone to tell you there’s a problem.”

And those who couldn’t call, or couldn’t get through, showed up to Spectrum on North Fares to find out what was going on.

“I came down here because I couldn’t get through to customer service.”

Around 4 PM, Customers flocked to spectrum’s parking lot while others simply tried to keep their businesses moving.

“I’ve been on the phone trying to find a solution, but there’s no solution, just go back and be patient,” Exmeyer told us.

That outage did not just affect the flow of business or streaming services, it caused a headache for those of us here at Eyewitness News, as well.

In the newsroom, our producers timed the shows by hand, anchors used paper scripts and we had no weather graphics, because most of our news producing programs are web -based.

“I called my wife first of all, and she said television was off, black dark screen….”

For football fans, that’s a very real problem. So the end of the outage was almost as good as a touchdown.

“Do you have any favorite shows that you’re going to miss tonight if they don’t get this back up?

“Thursday night football.”

But that football game was saved. Customers we spoke with said their internet returned around 5:15 PM after a long afternoon of disconnection.


How AI Empowers The Evolution Of The Internet


Computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee drafted the standards and code that became what is now known as the World Wide Web. He imagined it as an open platform where information and opportunities could be accessible to anyone.

The internet has already majorly changed our lives. And today, we are more connected than ever before: 3.6 billion people, or 50% of the entire world’s population, is online. Gartner predicts there will be 12.86 billion IoT devices in use by 2020.

In most countries, being entirely offline is a rarity. In the U.S., only 11% of the total adult population does not go online at all. When it comes to teenagers, these numbers only increase: 95% own or have access to a smartphone, and 45% of them are online “constantly.”

Billions of people use multiple services and platforms daily, leaving behind an ever-growing digital footprint.

Time To Train The Algorithms

AlphaGo, developed by DeepMind, was the first software able to beat a human player at the complex game of Go. Today we see that even more complicated games, such as Dota2, have become easy targets for AI bots. Many gifted scientists work on enabling creativity in machines, as well as making them “think.” So we are stepping closer to general artificial intelligence (AI), which is the type of AI we mostly see in sci-fi movies or books.


Even though the superintelligence is estimated to emerge later this century (if at all), today is too early to sound the alarms. We are definitely not there yet, and that type of AI is not going to be a reality anytime soon. Today we have machine learning (ML) algorithms that are a tool that can be used for advancing business and improving customer experience.

Such algorithms might prove to be difficult and expensive to create, and tech giants are stepping in to make it more accessible. Cloud AI is gaining ground. Amazon has AWS subsidiary. Google has TensorFlow (open-source AI library) and Cloud AutoML (pre-trained systems), and Microsoft collaborates with Amazon on Gluon, an open-source, deep-learning library.

All these open-source libraries mean that creating machine learning algorithms is becoming more and more feasible. We will see more progress as more scientists have access to them.

Any business that doesn’t start to analyze data and train their machine learning models soon will miss out on an opportunity to advance their services and stand out from the competition.

The Need For Change

Today, Berners-Lee believes that the web has lived up to this vision in many ways. He is also worried about new trends that we must fight in order for the web to “fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all humanity.”

His concerns are familiar to many: loss of control over our personal data, easily spread misinformation and political advertising that severely lacks transparency. We have privacy issues. We prioritize user experience over security, with major consequences.

One of the reasons sorting out these issues gets complicated is the sheer amount of data online. Humans are not capable of processing the data in a matter of a split second.

Predictive algorithms powered by AI manage to analyze the vast amounts of data created by both internet usage and IoT device usage and help to make sense out of it. Although we may not have all the necessary algorithms programmed at the moment to fix the internet, we are getting here. ML algorithms help to sort through malicious websites and block threats, and they can also help secure the home network and IoT devices.

Humans also have many other biases while making decisions, based on previous beliefs, fear of loss, etc. ML algorithms can become the right tool to solve privacy, security and other issues if we manage to ensure human bias does not reflect in AI algorithms. Even with all the data in the world, we need to make sure that we train our models to be both precise and unbiased