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WASHINGTON, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Hey, Google, order a large pizza! Alexa, I need vitamins! Voice shopping using smart speakers and smartphone apps is starting to gain traction among consumers, opening up a new “conversational commerce” channel and potentially disrupting the retail sector.

Devices such as Amazon’s Alexa-powered speakers and Google Home, which use artificial intelligence to respond to voice commands, are offering new choices to consumers who are looking for more convenient ways to order goods and services.

Voice shopping is expected to jump to $40 billion annually in 2022 in the United States, from $2 billion recently, according to a survey this year by OC&C Strategy Consultants.

“People are liking the convenience and natural interaction of using voice,” said Victoria Petrock of the research firm eMarketer.

“Computing in general is moving more toward voice interface because the technology is more affordable, and people are responding well because they don’t have to type.”

A recent eMarketer survey found 36 per cent of US consumers liked the idea of using a home-based assistant like Amazon Echo for making a purchase.

Amazon’s devices, which hit the market in 2015, were designed in large part to help boost sales, and Google Home was launched a year later.

The use of smart speakers has expanded the possibilities available through smartphone chatbots or text-based systems including those from Facebook and Apple.

“This is growing exponentially,” said Mark Taylor, an executive vice president at consultancy Capgemini and co-author of a study on conversational commerce.

“We’re getting very used to asking Alexa or Google to do something on our behalf, which makes it simple to switch and say, ‘Hey Alexa, buy me dog food.’”

Capgemini research shows many consumers are satisfied with voice interactions and that this is growing for search and information as well as for purchases and that this is likely to become a “dominant” mode of consumer action within a few years.

“It’s becoming part of the fabric of our lives,” Taylor said.

The most commonly shopped categories through voice are groceries, entertainment, electronics and clothing, according to OC&C.

For now, Taylor said, most voice-based purchases have been “low consideration goods” such as items consumers have purchased before.

But as people grow comfortable with voice assistants Taylor sees a potential for growth in “higher consideration” items including insurance or financial services.

An important element will be the tonality and personality established by intelligent assistants that will help companies establish an image or brand.

“People like to talk to human beings because humans give insight and guidance, and AI can do the same thing,” he said.

The “conversational interface” is a tremendous advantage in some situations, said Manlio Carrelli, executive vice president at LivePerson, which provides technology for firms in online platforms.

“This is like ‘Star Trek,’” Carelli said. “I can just say what I want and get it. Consumers don’t care what’s on the back end, they just want to be able to get what they want.”

Carelli said these systems are important not only for sales, but for customer service — reducing the need for dreaded call centres and saving millions for businesses.

“We’re now entering the mainstream for this market,” Carelli said. “I don’t think you’ll find a single major brand that isn’t looking at this.”

Walmart last month launched a text-based concierge shopping service called Jetblack which uses both artificial intelligence and professional assistants offering buying suggestions as part of its effort to compete with Amazon.

But Walmart is one of dozens of retailers offering voice-based shopping through Google Express as well, along with sellers of flowers, hardware, groceries and other goods.

Domino’s Pizza has embraced this technology, allowing orders through Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Facebook Messenger and other platforms.

In France, Google Home devices can be used to shop at the giant retailer group Carrefour. And retailers in China have been partnering with tech firms for similar services.

According to OC&C, Amazon Echo speakers are used in around 10 per cent of US homes, with four per cent for Google Home.

According to the report Apple is lagging in this sector because its Siri assistant lacks the AI capabilities of Google, and the new HomePod has only just hit the market.

Apple just this year rolled out “business chat,” enabling consumers to ask questions and place orders through iPhone text or voice commands, and see images of products on the iMessage service. Retailers Lowe’s and Home Depot are among the partners.

Some analysts, however, expect more players to enter the market, with speculation rampant about a speaker from Facebook, which now allows business and consumers to connect through Messenger chatbots.

“Voice commerce represents the next major disruption in the retail industry, and just as e-commerce and mobile commerce changed the retail landscape, shopping through smart speaker promises to do the same,” said John Franklin of OC&C.

LONDON, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Many people are switching from Facebook to closed forums like WhatsApp to discuss daily news because of worries about privacy, fake stories and toxic debates, a survey said recently.

The latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that news consumption via Facebook is falling, particularly among the young, who prefer WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat.

“People are... getting a little bit bored with Facebook,” Nic Newman, lead author of the seventh annual report said.

Facebook remains the most popular social network for news, with 36 per cent using it in the last week. But it has lost ground to other apps, especially WhatsApp, which has tripled in popularity as a source of news in four years to 15 per cent.

People feel more comfortable chatting on closed platforms in countries with polarised divides and where it can be dangerous to express political views openly, such as in Malaysia and Turkey, the study said.

Respondents said they often find stories on Facebook and Twitter and post them to a WhatsApp group for discussion with a smaller set of friends.

Although much of Facebook’s fall is attributable to its changed algorithms, which prioritise interactions with family and friends, trust is also a major concern.

Only 23 per cent of 74,000 people polled in 37 countries said they trust news on social media, compared to 44 percent trust in news overall.

More people are paying for online news in some countries, reaching 30 per cent in Norway, with donations also emerging as an alternative strategy, said the study by the Reuters Institute, which is funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“People find that some news is worth paying for, but much of it is not,” Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the Reuters Institute’s research director, said in a statement.

“The challenge for publishers now is to ensure that the journalism they produce is truly distinct, relevant, and valuable, and then effectively promoting it to convince people to donate or subscribe.”

 

SAN FRANCISCO, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Apple is trying to drag the US's antiquated system for handling 911 calls into the 21st century.

If it lives up to Apple's promise, the next iPhone operating system coming out in September will automatically deliver quicker and more reliable information pinpointing the location of 911 calls to about 6,300 emergency response centers in the US.

Apple is trying to solve a problem caused by the technological mismatch between a system built for landlines 50 years ago and today's increasingly sophisticated smartphones that make most emergency calls in the US.

The analog system often struggles to decipher the precise location of calls coming from digital devices, resulting in emergency responders sometimes being sent a mile or more from people pleading for help.

LOS ANGELES, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Gmail is rolling out a new feature that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities to know when to notify users about an email.

Email notifications are a never-ending story for so many, cluttering the screen and distracting us, when most of the time they really aren’t that urgent. And no, the answer is not to turn off notifications altogether, as that simply isn’t an option for many.

What if there were a way to filter out the ‘it can wait’ type of emails and only get an alert for the more important or urgent messages? Well, Google is attempting just that with its AI technology.

Gmail already offers the option to just get notified of emails that fall into the ‘Primary’ category, however that may still invite a lot of pings. Now the app is rolling out a new way for iOS users to filter everything but ‘High-priority emails’, therefore only getting alerted if emails are marked ‘important.’

In a blog post from G Suites, the company says that “these notifications leverage Gmail’s machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities to identify messages you may want to read first.”

For the moment, this ability to select “High priority only” has only started rolling out to the iOS Gmail app and should be visible in the next 1-2 days, however the announcement does say that it will come to Android devices soon and the company hopes “this feature makes your Gmail notifications relevant-not just noise.”




SAN FRANCISCO, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Twitter said it would revamp user timelines as part of an effort to deliver more news and personalised content, the latest effort to attract more users to the platform.

The new features shift further away from Twitter's original chronological feed and represent a stepped-up effort to be a destination to find news, especially breaking news.

“We are announcing a wide set of changes to make it easier to find and discover what is 'happening now' on Twitter - be it breaking news or events,” said consumer product team member Sriram Krishnan in a tweet.

“The goal is to make it easy to quickly find and follow the events and breaking news you care about on Twitter. Especially if you already don't have a well-curated timeline.”

The redesign builds on a feature called “Happening now” introduced last year to allow people to follow their favourite sports teams.

“We're now expanding this to include Tweets about breaking and personalised news,” said Twitter vice president Keith Coleman in a blog post.

“At the top of your timeline, you'll see news that's relevant to you along with the surrounding tweets and videos.”

Coleman said Twitter is also expanding news notifications for smartphone user who choose this.

“We've been sending breaking news notifications to keep people in the know, in the moment,” he said.

“Now we're experimenting with sending notifications to you based on your interests (like who you follow and what you tweet about), so you won't miss a beat.”

Twitter's news feature called Moments will be redesigned as well as a vertical feed instead of a horizontal one that requires swiping.

“In our tests of this new look, we saw significantly more people using and returning to Moments. So, we're starting to introduce this new vertical timeline experience for Moments,” Coleman said.

Twitter has developed a core base of celebrities, journalists and politicians but user growth has been sluggish compared with rival social networks.

In the first quarter it added a modest six million monthly active users to boost its total to 336 million, as it reported its second consecutive quarterly profit.

The move by Twitter follows actions by other internet platforms to more actively curate news and curb the spread of misinformation that proliferated, notably during the 2016 US election.

Chief executive Jack Dorsey said of the latest redesign: “This is happening. And really gets closer to what Twitter wants to be.”

BERLIN, June 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Researchers in Germany have started collecting data with a 60 million euro ($71 million) machine designed to help determine the mass of the universe's lightest particle.

Physicists, engineers and technicians at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology hope the 200-metric ton (220-ton) device will narrow down or even pinpoint the actual mass of neutrinos. Those are sometimes called "ghost particles" because they're so difficult to detect.

Scientists with the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino experiment, or KATRIN, said recently they'll be taking measurements "well into the next decade" and hope to produce "high-impact results."

Researchers say determining the mass of neutrinos is one of the most important open questions in particle physics and will help scientists better understand the history of the universe.

Some 200 people from 20 institutions in seven countries are working on the project.

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