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Tech Talk

• MORE from the CES 2019 gadget show:

Google has transformed CES into a Disney-like theme park — complete with singing animatronic macarons — to showcase new features of its voice-enabled digital assistant.

This includes an “interpreter mode” that enables some of Google’s smart home devices to work as a translator. It’s being piloted at a hotel concierge desk near the Las Vegas tech conference and rolls out to consumer devices in several weeks.

Voice assistants are getting pretty good at translating speech into text, but it’s a thornier challenge in artificial intelligence to enable real-time translation across different languages. Google’s new feature expands upon real-time translation services it’s rolled out to Android phones and headphones over the past year.

This is the second year that Google Assistant had made a huge splash at CES in an effort to outbid Amazon’s Alexa as the voice assistant of choice.

Google this year has an amusement park ride that resembles Disney’s “It’s a Small World”, though on a roller-coaster-like train at slow speeds. Talking and singing characters showcase Google’s various voice-assistant features as visitors ride along.

Google isn’t the only CES exhibitor promising the next generation of instant translation. Chinese AI firm iFlytek has been showing of its translation apps and devices that are already popular among Chinese travelers. And at least two startups, New York-based Waverly Labs and China-based TimeKettle, are promoting their earbuds that work as in-ear translation devices.

• IBM is expanding its side job as the world’s meteorologist.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty used a keynote address to unveil a new global forecasting system that promises more accurate local weather reports in places that never had them before.

The computing giant owns The Weather Company, which runs popular weather services including weather.com and the Weather Channel and Weather Underground apps (though not the Weather Channel television network). Those apps provide precise and constantly updating forecasts in places like the US and parts of Europe and Japan, but not in most of the world.

IBM says its new forecasting model relies in part on “crowd-sourced” data — barometric pressure readings from millions of smartphones and sensor readings from passing airplanes.

Weather Company CEO Cameron Clayton says the new system is intended to aid IBM’s business providing critical weather data to airlines, energy firms and other industries.

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