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You Can Now Activate Alexa Hands-Free

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Alexa is hands-free on Windows 10 PC

The rise of voice assistants has been a pivotal upgrade on the day to day living of most people. It adds convenience and portability for services that usually take time to finish. From only getting the latest news or booking your lunch, voice assistants have been of great significance for an on-the-go lifestyle. From the likes of Alexa, Cortana, Bixby, Hound, and Lyra, voice assistants have grown into a massive mobile service in the convenience of our voices.

In April 2015, Gartner, a research firm predicted that 30 percent of interaction would be done virtually through conversations with smart machines powered by our voices. True enough, this year, the widely known Alexa has moved from push-to-talk service to a now hands-free virtual assistance. With just your voice, Alexa can now be activated on any Windows 10 PC.

The latest version of the Amazon-powered voice assistant still allows you to set alarms, book dinners, check the weather, get news and control your home. But this time, these can all be done by only using the “Alexa” wake word. Whether the app is running on the background, on the foreground or minimized, Alexa can easily be activated to do your bidding.

Alexa for Windows 10 app has been launched already since last November for only specific compatible PCs, but it has now expanded its reach to any Windows 10 PC. The push-to-talk feature is still functional for all users by pressing the button within the app or hitting the keyboard shortcut. But Windows 10 PC users can also switch between two modes of activating Alexa either by the button or through the wake word.

On the initial launch of Alexa for Windows 10 PC, it was not able to support control on any music streaming app, but the recent update now carries music streaming on Pandora, allowing users to listen on their favorite Pandora stations and control their playlist.

This recent update on Alexa is only a part of the ongoing collaboration between Amazon and Microsoft and the integration of their voice assistants on an Alexa app for Xbox One. Along with the new diverse avatars, Dolby Vision support for Netflix, the Alexa skill app enables users to summon Cortana from Alexa and vice versa. The feature on the Xbox One also allows users to turn on their console, adjust the volume and even launch a game which means you would be able to start your game by simply saying, “Alexa, launch Assassin’s Creed.”

When the hands-free Alexa was officially launched available for download through the Windows Store, users have immediately claimed that it will be the end for Cortana. However, despite offering the same service, Microsoft says that it sees Cortana rather than a competitor but as a compliment to the other voice assistant. Microsoft’s Jennifer Langston explains, “the goal is to have two integrated digital assistants who can carry out tasks across different dimensions of daily life.”

Despite the integration of the two virtual assistants, this recent update on Alexa has made Cortana fallen behind from both Alexa, and Google Assistant added to the fact that Cortana was removed from Microsoft’s Skype and had Alexa in its stead. However, The Verge CEO, Satya Nadella said that Cortana should be available for Microsoft 365 subscribers. “You should be able to use it on Google Assistant, you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like you use your apps on Android and iOS so that’s at least how we want to think about where it’ll go,” explains Nadella. But you can still command both Alexa and Cortana on Windows 10 PC by simply saying, “Hey Alexa, open Cortana,” or “Cortana, open Alexa.”

According to research, almost 10 percent of people who do not have a smart speaker will be most likely to purchase one. With these additional updates, it would not be far from the reality since these voice-powered virtual assistants whether they will last for long or will slowly disintegrate, this specific digital service has changed the game for day to day living of convenience and efficiency.

Living a double life: marketing executive by day, writer at the dead of the night.

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Gaming

Behold! Minecraft Earth Will Take Over This Summer

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How will the app work in the real world, how today's society will perceive and use it and why it's making a difference in today's generation.
Minecraft Earth. Photo From: Minecraft YouTube

If you have a kid, there’s a possibility that you spent little over an hour scolding him for spending way too much time glued on his phone, tablet, or computer’s screen. There’s an even bigger possibility that it’s because he’s been playing Minecraft.

Minecraft is the younger generation’s version of Pokémon. As a kid myself, I spent hours and hours a day trying to catch little creatures and trying to win badges at gym battles. Today, kids are spending their days in a more creative and constructive way, in my opinion, by building structures forged from their imagination.

Personally, I have played Minecraft for several nights straight, trying to complete my dream fortified mansion-slash-city-slash-world. There’s no limit in what you can do in the game other than yourself. A few hours will fly by quickly as you see your imagination come to life, at least virtually. Think like an architect seeing his designs being built.

Microsoft Today revealed a teaser into how they’re reintroducing Minecraft to the world. From the idea that built the phenomenon of Pokémon Go comes Minecraft Earth.

However, it is quite easy to say, based on reports, that Microsoft is taking an ambitious leap from Pokémon Go.

Comparably, like Pokémon Go, Minecraft Earth is built on the foundation of augmented reality. You will get to experience the world of Minecraft through your mobile phone’s camera. Moreover, users will get to interact and establish relationships with other players.

But where Minecraft Earth stands out is that its a world where multiple players can create along the way. It’s not like Pokémon Go where Pokémon are left conveniently along sidewalks or parks for players to find. Microsoft takes it further by allowing users to define and decide how their own Minecraft Earth will look like in the end.

They can accomplish this by playing the regular Minecraft game whether individually or with friends connected to the same Wi-Fi, or through a server that lets you play with an even larger group of 50 people or more.

Minecraft Earth proposes to completely break the dogma that has lived with us in computing since the beginning: this idea of a single person that holds a single device to create a single experience,” Alex Kipman, Microsoft’s HoloLens and Kinect creator tells The Verge. “With Minecraft Earth, that’s no longer the case. The content is in the real world.”

Microsoft says that the mobile app will be like playing the original game since it’s highly anchored by the basics to easily resemble the game we got so used to. They wanted to preserve the spirit of the game that’s all about creating and collaborating.

Minecraft Earth will not be a player versus player kind of game. You cannot kill other players and claim their resources as that’s not how Microsoft intends the game to be. But you can technically steal from other players when they allowed you to enter their builds, but you won’t be doing it anonymously behind a computer but besides the person that you’re stealing from. A little mischief to spice things up.

Just like the original, you will be spending your time chopping down trees and collecting resources that you can use in Build Mode to create your fortress. But with a real-to-life version of the original, you can scale your builds into actual size reaching to 200ft x 200ft. If you spent hours building it on your phone, I wonder how long Minecraft Earth will take you.

Moreover, you can have your builds stored personally by leaving it at the desired spot. From there, you can decide to share it with other players for them to help or collaborate on your work.

However, don’t expect that every single tree or plot of land can be harvested. This is where the concept of Pokémon Go comes in, in order to collect resources, you will need to walk around the neighborhood or to the park to see ‘tapables’ that you can collect.

“We have covered the entire planet in Minecraft,” Tori Olafsson, Minecraft Earth game director explains “Every lake is a place you can fish, every park is a place you can chop down trees. We’ve actually taken maps of the entire world and converted them to Minecraft.”

There are also adventures in Minecraft Earth that vary from easy to difficult. Easy where it can take you by surprise as you fall into a castle filled by skeletons attacking you or difficult where you are knowingly entering the challenge risking all of your resources.

Definitely, Minecraft Earth is bringing a lot of things in the table, with augmented reality along its side, it will take over the world by storm and start a whole new phenomenon alongside its 91 million active players across the planet.

Minecraft Earth will be available in iOS and Android via beta on summer.

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Microsoft

Microsoft Gives Grants To 7 Startups As Part Of ‘AI For Accessibility’ Program

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Annually Microsoft grants startups with tech focused on ai that helps bridge the gap between people with disabilities. Talk about the newest 7 startups microsoft has chosen this year

As part of Microsoft’s philanthropic mission, it launched AI for Accessibility in 2018 which is a $25 million project that would last for 5 years. The program determines which organizations are eligible for a grant that supports their mission towards bridging the gap between the rapidly evolving technology and people with disabilities closer.

AI for Accessibility is second to and modeled after Microsoft’s AI for Earth, which provides training and resources to organizations tackling problems relating to climate, water, agriculture, and biodiversity through technology. Both of which are under the AI for Good project.

Microsoft says that the AI for Accessibility program provides businesses, individuals, and organizations access to their advanced Microsoft Azure cloud computing resources. Specifically, projects that aim to develop on Microsoft’s Cognitive Services and Machine Learning technology for accessible and intelligent AI solutions in its three main areas of focus: Employment, Daily Life, and Communication and Connection.

Last year, a total of nine organizations and projects were given grants including Zyrobotics, iTherapy’s InnerVoice, Present Pal, Equadex’s Helpicto, Abilisense, Timlogo, the University of Iowa, the Indian Institute of Science, and the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation.

The Washington-born company announces grants to different organizations all throughout the year. Today, as part of celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Microsoft announced 7 new efforts to be part of the AI for Accessibility program.

Our Ability | New York State Industries for the Disabled, Inc. (NYSID) 2018 Winners

New York State Industries for the Disabled, Inc. (NYSID) 2018 WinnersOur Ability is an online based platform founded by John Robinson, who was born without complete limbs. As a person with a disability himself, he knows how hard it is for people like him to seek out job opportunities. He says that for people like him, unemployment rates are twice as high compared to people without disabilities.

Although Robinson still notes that there still are job opportunities for people with disabilities, they’re just hard to find. Through intuitive chatbots and AI tech, Our Ability is able to put businesses and employment seekers in one platform. In turn, businesses and organizations looking to hire people with disabilities can actually find the ones who are willing and ready to be part of the workforce.

Another startup, Pison Technology from Boston, Massachusetts is developing a wrist-wearable technology that’s meant to be handy, quite literally. Founder Dexter Ang’s idea came when he saw his late mother’s physical abilities deteriorated under the effects of ALS.

The goal is for people to have a fallback option when they’re struggling with making actions on digital platforms due to ALS or because of other neuromuscular disabilities such as MS. The supposedly easy thing as a trackpad or a mouse is failing them; technology shouldn’t fail its user, technology needs to adapt.

Ideally, the goal of the wrist-wearable device from Pison is to be able to make actions in digital platforms by sensing a person’s microgestures and for AI technology to make desired actions for them.

Another startup on this list is Voiceitt from Israel, which is similar to Google’s Project Euphonia that was announced during this year’s Google I/O. Both of which aims to use AI technology to comprehend a person’s voice and translate it for others to understand in real-time scenarios.

Particularly, people who suffer strokes, for example, can significantly affect speech that often becomes hard to understand for people around them. It’s often hard to engage in a conversation when you’re hardly understood and can affect morale. With Voiceitt, it can be a live translator that could actually push people suffering from this disability to speak and to be understood, improving the overall quality of life.

Here are other projects that were also given grants as described by Google:

  • University of Sydney (Australia) researchers are developing a wearable sensory warning system to help the 75 million people living with epilepsy better predict and manage seizures to live more independently.
  • Birmingham City University (United Kingdom) researchers are developing a system that enables people with limited mobility to control digital platforms using voice commands and the movement of their eyes.
  • Massachusetts Eye and Ear (Boston, MA) researchers are working on a vision assistance mobile app that offers enhanced location and navigation services for people who are blind or have low vision.
  • University of California Berkley (Berkley, CA) researchers are creating a mobile app for individuals who are blind or have low-vision to provide captions and audio descriptions of their surroundings.

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Microsoft

Everything New Coming To Microsoft Apps

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Microsoft App updates

Kirk Koenigsbauer, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365, is giving us all the details on what’s to expect with their new updates.

Add data to excel with a snap

Data encoding has always been a tedious and time-consuming task but entirely necessary to accomplish tasks. Microsoft 365 is here to do the nitty gritty and cut the time spent in encoding data.

The Excel Application only needs you to take a picture! People can now take a picture of a printed data table on any Android device, and it automatically converts the image into a fully editable table in Excel. 

This new image recognition functionality eliminates the need to enter hardcopy data manually.

This capability is starting to roll out for the Excel Android app with iOS support coming soon.

Microsoft 365 is advancing security

Microsoft 365 has started rolling out additional security features to help users stay ahead of threats, create a more productive workplace, and keep you in the flow of work.

New features and services help create a better way for its users to manage a complex threat landscape and to communicate and collaborate securely.

With Microsoft Threat Experts, a new managed threat-hunting service, helps to proactively hunt and prioritize threats to maximize the Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP).

This service grants users access to world-class experts that can help find solutions and work through tough investigation challenges.

This can be accessed through the new Ask a Threat Expert button.

Security Alerts

Receive security notifications for important events on your personal Microsoft account now via the Microsoft Authenticator app. 

When you receive a push notification, you can quickly view your account activity and take actions to protect your account if needed. 

There’s also a new update where Microsoft Authenticator can also be used to add two-step verification to your account for added security.

Making a team work with secure communication and collaboration features 

Emma Williams, Corporate Vice President of Modern Workplace Verticals, said in a report that medical care has shifted to team-based care, increased medical specialization, a growing volume of digital patient data, and stringent regulations for patient privacy. Healthcare providers strive to deliver the best possible care to patients, but the tools they use for coordinating patient care are often fragmented and impede the collaborative workflows required in a complex care environment.

To address these challenges, today we are announcing new capabilities in Microsoft Teams that empower care teams and enable healthcare organizations to securely collaborate and communicate. Built on the secure, compliant Microsoft 365 cloud, Teams gives all healthcare workers a familiar way to communicate in real-time, coordinate patient care, and improve operational efficiencies.

New advanced messaging features include priority notifications for urgent messages and message delegation to securely manage urgent patient care. In addition, new platform enhancements provide the ability to integrate electronic health records for care coordination and make Teams an even more powerful hub for health team collaboration.”

In addition, the ability to integrate FHIR-enabled electronic health records (EHR) data with Teams enables clinicians to securely access patient records, chat with other team members, and even start a video meeting—all in one hub for teamwork. 

Migrate from Windows to Office 365 with ease

Good news for Microsoft users! Compatibility issues can now be mitigated through the Desktop App Assure and Microsoft FastTrack service.

The Desktop App Assure service is designed to address issues with Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus app compatibility. When you request the Desktop App Assure service, a FastTrack Specialist works with you throughout your migration to Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus and when you consume feature updates.

FastTrack, on the other hand, offers guidance on how to configure Exchange Online Protection, Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection, Office 365 Message Encryption, and Data Loss Prevention policies.

Maximize your Office App

The free Office app provides users a platform to get started and get the most out of Office.

Anyone who signs in with a work, school, or personal Microsoft Account can use the Office App to quickly access all the apps available to them and their most relevant files and documents. 

Organizations can also take advantage of the ability to integrate third-party apps, enable users to search for documents and people across the organization, and customize the experience with their own branding. 

The Office app can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store, requires a current version of Windows 10, and works with any Office 365 subscription, Office 2019, Office 2016, and Office.

A more visual Microsoft To-Do

To-Do now lets you attach files and photos to help make tasks more actionable with added context. 

This highly requested feature is now available on all platforms and syncs across your devices, so you can take your new file-attached tasks on the go.

Other updates

• New one-time passcodes (OTP) from Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) make sharing and collaboration seamless for any user with any account.

• Azure AD now supports automated user provisioning from Workday, enabling fast and efficient identity creation, so employees can access their Microsoft 365 apps and all other critical resources on day one.

• Starting this month, the Teams desktop app will be installed along with the rest of the Office 365 ProPlus apps for all new installs.

• Updates to the SharePoint Migration Tool make it even easier to bring your information to the cloud, with improvements like the ability to migrate web parts, pages, and site navigation.

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