Hey Siri, who’s Cortana?

Whether you like it or not, the ghost of Steve Jobs is always listening. The latest iOS updates allows you to ask Siri a question just by saying “Hey Siri” instead of having to press the home button. This improvement, along with improving Siri’s overall intelligence, makes the iPhone superior to its competitors. While most iPhone users do know a little bit about the technology of an Android phone, one of the least talked about differences is the voice assistants.

Continue reading “Hey Siri, who’s Cortana?”

The Future of Artificial Intelligence

Hanson Robotics Sophia
Sophia looks, talks, and acts just like a normal person. The only difference is she has wires instead of veins. She is Hanson Robotics latest and best creation. Sophia presented at the Geneva Conference the first week in June, talking about the benefits of AI robots in society. She talks not only about robots benefits working with senior citizens and children, but she is also an advocate for other forms of AI and robots. She has presented at many different conferences and appeared on several tv talk shows to show off her skills and to talk about how AI is the future. Sophia is constantly assuring people that robots will not take over the world.

In October, Sophia made headlines by becoming the first robot to be granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. In November, she told the world she was ready to have a baby. Both of these events have created some controversy. Women in Saudi Arabia and around the world were upset to see that she did not have to obey the oppressive laws that other women in Saudi Arabia have to face. She was not wearing a headscarf, nor was she accompanied by a man in her family because she was outside. However, Sophia was quickly able to turn this around and instead began advocating for women’s rights. In the eyes of her creator, David Hanson said Sophia is more like a child herself, than an adult. He says she has the vocabulary of a college educated adult, but because she hasn’t been perfected yet, and because she’s existed for such a short time, in reality she is more like a child.

Unlike less advanced robots with programmed responses, Sophia is made so she can understand what people are saying and then use that information to educate herself and to improve her responses. Back in March of 2016, Sophia made headlines when Hanson asked her “do you want to destroy humans?…Please say ‘no’”. To everyone’s surprise, she said “OK. I will destroy humans.” However, since then Sophia hasn’t made any comments like that, because of her ability to “learn.” Sophia is always learning and becoming smarter and is an incredible example of the future of technology.

Which to Buy: Amazon Echo or Google Home?

The Amazon Echo and Google Home are both hands-free voice activated speakers that you can use to find out the weather, set timers, play music, or ask questions, among other things. With the Google Home pulling it at $129 and the Amazon Echo at $99 (although both are currently on sale for $79), one might choose the Amazon Echo, or “Alexa” just for that reason. However, here are some things to consider:

Amazon Echo:

  • Newly released Echo 2nd generation has a new speaker and new design
  • Comes in 6 colors
  • Can play music from Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, or radio apps like Sirius XM and iHeartRadio
  • Can make phone calls, set timers, manage shopping lists, request an Uber, or order a pizza
  • Can check the weather, your schedule, traffic, or sports scores
  • Can connect to and manage compatible televisions, lights, thermostats, sprinklers, garage doors, and other Echo’s
  • Available in larger and smaller sizes, the Amazon Echo Plus and Echo Dot, respectfully

Google Home:

  • Comes in one color
  • Can play music from Google Play Music, Pandora, Spotify, or Youtube Music
  • Can make phone calls, set timers, manage shopping lists, request an Uber, or order a pizza.
  • Can check the weather, your schedule, traffic, or sports scores
  • Can connect to and manage compatible televisions, lights, thermostats, sprinklers, garage doors, and other Google Homes
  • Available in smaller and larger sizes, the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max, respectfully

Considering these factors, the two products are practically the same. In my opinion, the most important factor to consider when choosing a voice assistant is how connected you are to the brands. For instance, someone who does all their shopping through Amazon Prime may choose Echo over Google Home, whereas someone who has purchased Youtube Red and the new Google Pixel phone may choose Google Home.

Thinking outside the Blackbox

Blackbox :: infamous puzzles, more commonly known just as Blackbox, is “a refreshingly oppressive puzzle app” that challenges you to think outside the box; the box being your phone. The game has over 4 million downloads and more than 50 innovative levels, with even more available for purchase. What makes this game special is that each level is solved without touching your phone.

Each level is called a “light.” You solve the level by turning on the light, or making the box go from empty to filled in. Some involve turning your phone, using your location, or using your camera. Some technically involve touching your screen, where you have to adjust a setting like the brightness of your screen or your wifi.

When I first got this game I thought it would be pretty easy. I couldn’t really think of many challenges that don’t involve touching the screen. But I was very wrong. The first few levels used the phone’s interface, so I thought that would be the case for most of the levels and tried to do all kinds of things like using siri, taking photos, and charging my phone in hopes of beating the level, but once I figured out that the solution had nothing to do with those things I felt kind of dumb for not figuring it out at first.

The creator of Blackbox, Ryan McLeod, said he was tired of iOS puzzle games and wanted one that granted “ah-hah moments.” I certainly felt this while playing some levels that took hours of me fiddling around in settings or spinning my phone in all directions. Other levels, however, have granted me nothing but frustration, because even though I know how to solve them, either I can’t or I have to wait 30 days. But I know that once I finally beat those levels, I will feel very accomplished. Also, if anyone downloads the app and has a pink QR code, please let me know.

iPhone 8 to have major updates

Chinese factories as well as American internet sources have leaked a lot of interesting updates about the upcoming new iPhone. While some of these rumors come from the manufacturers and some come from sources here in America, they are all still rumors.

Some updates from the factories in China report that there will be a 5.8 inch iPhone, which is bigger than the current iPhone 7 plus, which has a 5.5 inch display, but smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, which is about 6 inches. The iPhone 8 is also rumored to have edge to edge design and feature an OLED (organic light emitting diodes) screen rather than the LCD screen used now. OLED’s are basically the upgraded version of LED lights, which are typical lights you would find in buildings, homes, or offices. This new phone may also play upon the new home button design of the iPhone 7, or may not include a home button at all.

One of the most surprising reports was of facial recognition technology in the phone. This would work by using laser and infrared located near the front-facing camera. However, this report hasn’t been reported by multiple sources like some of the other information about the new phone so reporters are more skeptical of this claim.

Apple does have a set release schedule for new products and with the exception of the iPhone SE, every iPhone has gone on sale in September, so the official announcement for the iPhone 8 should be around early September 2017.

The Elementary Musical

The last weekend in January, Mr. Ashley asked me and a couple other Help Desk students to help design and run lights for the elementary musical. This included coming in on the Wednesday and Thursday before the show to get a script and to watch the rehearsals to get a feel for the show. The day before the show we sat down with Mr. Ashley and the director to put the last finishing touches on the light design, but for the most part we were on our own.

Mr. Ashley wasn’t there for a few of the shows and rehearsals so we had to be ready to improvise when something went wrong, which included a missing cue, the lights not being the right color for the cue, the actor not hitting their spot, the house lights breaking, and many other problems. The whole show was a learning experience I haven’t gotten in high school shows, because there were always adults there to help when something went wrong. But for this show, if Mr. Ashley wasn’t there, there were no other adults who could step in and help us. We had to come up with a permanent or temporary solution ourselves. He entrusted us with a lot of responsibility which also included us talking to the director about his ideas for the show if Mr. Ashley hadn’t created cues exactly the way they should be. I had to create a lot of cues on the fly during the dress rehearsals or during the brief time we had between shows, or I just had to guess what cue to go to because there were several extra cues in the show or cues were written in my script that weren’t saved in the show file.

All of these things taught me how much attention you have to pay to the whole thing, and that it doesn’t magically all come together. In such a short show (the actors had under two weeks to prepare) you really get to see the whole process come together as opposed to middle or high school shows where the process is spread over a period of two to three months. The middle and high school shows, especially middle school, required significantly less time, work, and focus on our parts because everything was done by adults, but partly because we knew less about the lighting board and light design. All you had to do was follow along in the script, and sometimes you didn’t have to do that if you had someone calling your cues. In both of those cases all you had to do was hit the go button to advance to the next cue. “Monkey work” as it has been called. No brain power at all. However, the unpredictability of everything in this show taught me some backup strategies and teamwork skills that will help me be a better help desk student and theater technician.

Bluetooth robots inspire creativity

Sphero is a bluetooth controlled sphere, that weighs just under half a pound and is about 4 inches in diameter. The little ball was first developed in 2010 by two friends, who created the company Orbotix, now known simply as Sphero. Since then, the company has grown tremendously. In 2013 they developed Sphero 2.0, a better, faster, and smarter version of their original robot. In 2014 they released a more cylindrical version of Sphero that runs on two rubber wheels, which launched as “Ollie”. Later in 2014 the company launched SPRK, a ball almost identical to Sphero, but designed for the classroom, to help students learn about programming. Towards the end of 2015 to go along with the movie “The Force Awakens”, the company released a Sphero toy designed to look just like the Star Wars droid BB-8.

I was lucky enough to get to play with one of the 5 Sphero’s the school has during my help desk time one day. Mr. Ashley simply picked one up from its inductive charging base (a curved holder that starts charging your Sphero as soon as you place it in it, no cords needed), tapped it twice to turn it on, handed me and a friend one of the schools iPad mini’s, and let us drive it down the hallway. Since Sphero is a perfect cylinder, you can’t tell which way is forward and which is backward. One of the first things Mr. Ashley taught me was how to adjust the “tail” to face you, so you could easily calibrate and control it. The other thing he taught us was how to easily adjust the speed in 10% intervals (reaching a max speed of over 4.5 mph), simply by tapping the hare, for faster, or the turtle, for slower. The rest we figured out on our own.

While Sphero can pretty easily do figure-eights around desks, it sometimes has trouble getting through doors, and that proved to be one of the first challenges for us. We had lots of fun racing it down the hallways and seeing how fast it could go, but the real fun started when we realized Sphero do so much more. Sphero is as much a device as it is a game. By simply fooling around with the iPads we discovered that it had a feature called quests. We didn’t look too much at this feature. We only looked at the first 3 quests it displayed for us. These quests allowed us to have more fun but also taught us some new things about Sphero. One of the first quests required us to bump into three objects within 10 seconds, teaching us that Sphero was very durable. I was very intrigued by the toy and asked Mr. Ashley if we could take them into the elementary MakerSpace. I knew Sphero could go fast and roll around, but I wanted to see what else we could make it do. Armed with cardboard shoe boxes and paper cups I had the goal of creating a bridge for Sphero to walk across. Creating the bridge was almost as challenging as getting Sphero to cross it, which was my original goal. The first problem we ran into was Sphero crashing into the paper cup support system. We fixed that by taping the cups to the cardboard platform in the middle which served as our main bridge structure. The next problem we ran into was the cardboard not being strong enough to support the Sphero. We also found that I had made the ramp too steep for Sphero to climb. We managed to fix both of these problems by changing the height at which the ramps were angled. After attempting to successfully cross the bridge dozens of times and only succeeding once I realized I had achieved my goal of creating a pretty impossible bridge. Having this goal completed I wanted to move on and see what other obstacles we could make. I wanted to create a complex maze for the Sphero to travel through. We didn’t exactly have access to materials capable of constructing the maze I had in mind, so I use pompoms to make an outline of a maze. Very quickly I discovered that this would take a lot longer then I had originally thought it would, so I quit. After cleaning up the pompoms I looked around the elementary library where we were working and saw we already had a maze. I noticed we could use the row of 3 bookshelves as obstacles in a race course. I challenged one of my other classmates and the Sphero they were using, to a race, but this also had unforeseen problems. The bookshelves served as great obstacles to maneuver around, but they made it hard to see where your Sphero was going. The easiest solution to this problem was to follow your Sphero around, but that created more problems of blocking your opponent and their Sphero. 

Ever since Mr. Ashley first showed me Sphero I’ve been deeply fascinated by this little toy. I’ve never been super interested in engineering or robots, but this guy has got me hooked, and I can’t wait to continue designed obstacle courses and completing quests, all while learning more about technology!