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Any Tech news » Gadgets http://anytechnews.com Tue, 27 Jun 2017 22:43:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.9 Disney experiments look to make kid-robot interactions more natural http://anytechnews.com/disney-experiments-look-to-make-kid-robot-interactions-more-natural/ http://anytechnews.com/disney-experiments-look-to-make-kid-robot-interactions-more-natural/#comments Tue, 27 Jun 2017 00:34:19 +0000 http://anytechnews.com/disney-experiments-look-to-make-kid-robot-interactions-more-natural/


Sooner or later, our children will be raised by robots, so it’s natural that Disney, purveyor of both robots and child-related goods, would want to get ahead of that trend. A trio of studies from its Research division aim at understanding and improving how kids converse with and otherwise interact with robots and other reasonably smart machines.

The three studies were executed at once as a whole, with each part documented separately in papers posted today. The kids in the study (about 80 of them) proceeded through a series of short activities generally associated with storytelling and spoken interaction, their progress carefully recorded by the experimenters.

First they were introduced (individually as they took part in the experiment, naturally) to a robot named Piper, which was controlled remotely (“wizarded”) by a puppeteer in another room, but had a set of recorded responses it drew from for different experimental conditions. The idea is that the robot should use what it knows to inform what it says and how it says it, but it’s not clear quite how that should work, especially with kids. As the researchers put it:

As human-robot dialog faces the challenges of long-term interaction, understanding how to use prior conversation to foster a sense of relationship is key because whether robots remember what we’ve said, as well as how and when they expose that memory, will contribute to how we feel about them.

After saying hi, kids participated in a collaborative storytelling activity, which was its own experiment. The researchers describe the reasoning behind this activity thusly:

Despite recent progress, AI remains imperfect in recognizing children’s speech and understanding the semantics of natural language. Imperfect speech recognition and natural language understanding imply that the robot may not respond to children in a semantically coherent manner. With these impeding factors, it remains an open question whether fluid collaborative child-robot storytelling is feasible or is perceived as valuable by children.

An experimenter, essentially sitting in for a theoretical collaborative AI, added characters to a story the two were improvising — in some cases according to the context of the story (“They found a kitten in the cave”), and in some cases randomly (“Add a kitten to the story”). The goal was to see which engaged kids more, and when each one was more feasible for an app or device to use.

Younger kids and boys stumbled when given contextual additions, presumably because they required some thought to understand and integrate — so it’s possible to be too responsive when interacting with them.

On the way out from the story activity, kids would stop by Piper again, who asked them about their story in either a generic way, a way that acknowledged a character in the story and a way that in addition added some feeling to it (e.g. “I hope the kitten got out of the cave okay”). Another activity followed (a collaborative game with a robot), after which a similar interaction took place with similarly varying responses.

Next came the third experiment, which is best summarized as “what would happen if Dora the Explorer could hear you answer her questions?”

As children begin to watch more television programming on systems that allow for interaction, such as tablets and videogame systems, there are different opportunities to engage them… We performed three studies to examine the effects of accurate program response times, repeating unanswered questions, and providing feedback on the children’s likelihood of response.

Instead of just waiting a couple of seconds during which a kid may or may not say anything, the show would wait (up to 10 seconds) for a response and then continue, or prompt them to answer again. Waiting and prompting definitely increased response rates, but there wasn’t much of an effect when feedback was included, for example pointing out a wrong answer.

After doing this activity, kids popped by Piper again to have another chat, then rated the robots on friendliness, smarts and so on.

What the researchers found with Piper was that older kids preferred, and were more responsive to, the more human-like responses from the robot that remembered previous interactions or choices — suggesting this basic social function is important in building rapport.

All this is important not actually for letting robots raise our kids as I jested above, but for making all human-computer interactions more natural — without overdoing it or making it creepy. No one wants their Alexa or Google Home to say “would you like to listen to the same playlist you did last week when you were feeling depressed and cooking a pizza while alone in the house?” But it could!

The papers also suggest that this kind of work is highly applicable in situations like speech therapy, where kids often engage in games like this to improve their understanding or diction. And it’s not hard to imagine the broader applications. A warmer, fuzzier, context-aware collaborative AI could have many benefits, and these early experiments are only the start of making that happen.

Featured Image: Jeff Spicer / Stringer/Getty Images



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A month with the Catalyst Fermentation System http://anytechnews.com/a-month-with-the-catalyst-fermentation-system/ http://anytechnews.com/a-month-with-the-catalyst-fermentation-system/#comments Mon, 26 Jun 2017 00:32:39 +0000 http://anytechnews.com/a-month-with-the-catalyst-fermentation-system/


I’ve been following the multiple “easy” brewing systems available online for a while now and have never found one that truly spoke to me. Devices like the Minibrew seem great but price and shipping problems have always kept them out of my boozy little hands. So, rather than wait for the perfect automatic system, I decided to look at the Catalyst Fermentation System, a $199 carboy kit that promises to make brewing as easy as boiling some oats and hops and managing a trub.

Fermentation is a fairly simple process. At its core you create a “tea” or juice using sugar-rich ingredients and introduce yeast. The yeast eats the sugar, produces carbon dioxide and alcohol, and dies. In wine you try to drive out the CO2 and clarify the product as much as possible and with beer and other sparkling beverages you want to maintain the CO2 through the careful addition of extra sugar or gas in a keg. In my test case I ran a batch of Stone Pale Ale. The kit comes complete with grain, a cheesecloth bag, and three different hops to drop in at various times in order to get the right flavor profile. It also includes a sack of dry malt – the aforementioned sugar – that you mix together and boil in a big pot (not included) and then quickly cool before you pour it into the Catalyst.

Beer-making is easy in theory it is difficult in practice. If your ingredients are poor or your sterilization is incomplete you can infect and ruin the batch. In fact many brewers won’t use a system like the Catalyst because it is made of plastic and not glass. Plastic can scratch easily, they reckon, you can introduce dormant bacteria and yeast into a batch with the wrong equipment.

I personally have never gone wrong with plastic. I’ve found that as long as you sanitize the entire system you usually can use almost anything in your brewing process. That said I didn’t notice any scratching in my vessel after preparing single batch of beer.

The Catalyst is very easy to use. After making and cooling the wort I transferred the liquid to the container, closed the airtight lid, added a bubbler, and attached the trub. The trub is essentially a jar that screws in under a 3-inch valve. The trub is designed to catch all of the sediment in the beer including the spent yeast and water-logged hops. Because the trub can be closed off from the actual beer, you’re able to “rack” the beer – remove the sediment – simply by closing the valve and getting rid of the stuff in the jar. The company also suggests that, after initial racking, you can attach a smaller jar and grab some of the yeast for next time, thereby ensuring consistency between batches.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of my batch in action but essentially the vessel is very similar to the V-Vessel, a winemaking system that has a similar racking solution. The Catalyst, however, is designed primarily for beer so the trub is much larger and can hold more sediment. Once you clear the fermenter a few times by removing first the wet hops and then the yeast, you can add a funnel-like bottling attachment that lets you squirt the beer into bottles or kegs using an included hose.

I found little to dislike about the system except for the trub valve. I screwed in a jar as required and let the beer sit for a few days. However, when I came back I noticed the space around the lip of the jar was leaking a little, leaving a malty little puddle in my basement. I was able to stop it by screwing the jar in more tightly but then that made it harder to remove the jar for racking. It wasn’t a major problem but it was a definite annoyance. I let the beer settle for about four weeks and then kegged the IPA in a small keg. My friend connected the keg to his home dispensing system. The result? A solid, tasty beer without many off-tastes or issues.

I would love an automatic brewing system. As it stands, however, a kit like the Catalyst is the next best thing. It doesn’t take much skill or effort to make a batch of acceptable beer and, because the system is fairly self-contained, it forgives many of the sins committed by beginning brewers. I would argue that an inexpensive system like this is far better than some of the automatic systems out there – I’m particularly enamored of the Grandfather – simply because you learn more about the brewing process and you learn early on the difference between a successful brew and a bad one. However, as technology improves, I could see setting up an automated brew kit in the kitchen and getting fresh, tasty beer at a moment’s notice. The technology and price aren’t quite there yet, however, so until then something like the Catalyst is an excellent and inexpensive tool.



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The Sony A9 inches the mirrorless camera market forward http://anytechnews.com/the-sony-a9-inches-the-mirrorless-camera-market-forward/ http://anytechnews.com/the-sony-a9-inches-the-mirrorless-camera-market-forward/#comments Sun, 25 Jun 2017 00:31:33 +0000 http://anytechnews.com/the-sony-a9-inches-the-mirrorless-camera-market-forward/

Mirrorless cameras. On paper, some of them seem perfect. They’re quick and powerful with lightweight bodies, but their main drawback has been equally light lens catalogs.

Having a variety of prime, telephoto, macro, sport and the like, all with distinctive shooting characteristics is what give lenses their charm.

However, Sony just took Nikon’s spot as number two in the full-frame camera industry — Canon holds pole position. Currently, only 24 full-frame E-mount lenses exist compared to the dozens that Canon has in each category. Still, it’s inching forward.

The Sony Alpha A9 is the first new mirrorless camera since taking their new perch. Is it really a show of maturation of the format, worth paying the premium and jumping on board? I think so.

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