Siri might ditch Nuance so it can finally understand what you’re saying.

For many people, Siri has been more of a nuisance than an empowering personal assistant since debuting on the iPhone 4s in 2011. Sure, she’s received some upgrades and is getting even more in iOS 8, but fancy new features mean nothing if she can’t understand what you’re saying.

Siri’s favoriting line, “Sorry I didn’t get that,” might soon be a thing of the past though as a report from Wired says the time is ripe for Apple to unleash a neural-net-boosted Siri.

Despite using Nuance technology for years, Apple might be looking to move away from licensing the voice recognition technology in favor of its own neural network engine built by Apple’s team of speech recognition experts.

Over the last three years of development, Apple has turned Siri into its own search of sorts. Drawing on third-party sources like Wolfram Alpha, Yelp, Wikipedia, and Shazam. Siri can help with your math homework, find new songs and buy them, tell you sports scores, but understanding what you’re saying could be the biggest upgrade of all.

According to the report, Apple hired Alex Acero to be the senior director in Apple’s Siri group after researching speech technology for 20 years at Microsoft. Apple has also poached top speech recognition talent from Nuance.

“Apple is not hiring only in the managerial level, but hiring also people on the team-leading level and the researcher level,” says Abdel-rahman Mohamed, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto, who was courted by Apple. “They’re building a very strong team for speech recognition research.

Microsoft, Google have been using neural network algorithms to power Skype and Android Voice Search with noticeably better results. Apple is the only major tech company that hasn’t adopted the technology. Nothing was mentioned at WWDC, but if Microsoft’s head of research is right, Siri could get its new neural network super powers within six months.

Apple will now alert you when the NSA wants your data.

The data-hungry tentacles of the NSA have managed to choke America’s top tech firms into silent submission on data requests, but after months of demanding more transparency, Apple is ready to defy authorities and let you know when the NSA wants your data.

Prosecutors warn that such a move will undermine investigations by tipping off criminals and allowing them to destroy sensitive data, but according to the Washington Post, Apple and others have already changed their policies.

“Later this month, Apple will update its policies so that in most cases when law enforcement requests personal information about a customer, the customer will receive a notification from Apple,” company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft are also in the process of updating their policies to let users know in advance when their data has been swept into an investigation, giving users the option to fight disclosures in court.

Alerts to data requests won’t affect those approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which are automatically sealed by law, or subpoenas from the FBI that carry binding gag orders.

Apple and others say the new policies come with some exceptions, like if a potential victim is in imminent danger, especially if a child’s safety is vulnerable, but they argue the exceptions should be decided by a judge, rather than a company lawyer or investigator.

Source: Cult of Mac.

Google Buys Tony Fadell’s Nest, The Apple Of Smart Home Tech.


Today Google confirmed its acquisition of Nest Labs, the hot startup founded by the father of the original iPod, Tony Fadell. Nest has been making forward-thinking gadgets for the home like its popular thermostat since 2011. The Nest Protect smoke detector was just announced in October of 2013.

Google paid a hefty $3.2 billion for Nest, and the search giant has promised that Nest will remain its own distinct brand and operate under the leadership of Fadell.

Larry Page, CEO of Google, said: “Nest’s founders, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, have built a tremendous team that we are excited to welcome into the Google family. They’re already delivering amazing products you can buy right now–thermostats that save energy and smoke/CO alarms that can help keep your family safe. We are excited to bring great experiences to more homes in more countries and fulfill their dreams!”

Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest, said: “We’re thrilled to join Google. With their support, Nest will be even better placed to build simple, thoughtful devices that make life easier at home, and that have a positive impact on the world.”

Source: Cult of Mac.

Use this trick to cache offline maps in the latest Google Maps for iOS.

The latest version of Google Maps for iOS released yesterday brought a number of new features. The most notable addition is support for the iPad, but there’s also a really cool easter egg Google added into the app. The easter egg allows you to cache maps for offline use inside the app. It has actually been available in the Android version for a while, but this is the first time it has made its way to iOS.

To cache your maps for offline use, first zoom in to the area of the map that you want to save. Be careful you aren’t trying to cover an extremely large area or else this trick won’t work. Once you’ve zoomed into an area you want to save for offline use, tap on the search field and type “ok maps.” Then tap the search button on the keyboard to start downloading your offline map.

If you’ve zoomed in far enough, you’ll then see the Google Maps icon briefly appear onscreen and then at the bottom of the screen a black bar with white text will appear displaying a message that says, “The onscreen map has been cached.”

After the map is cached, you can access it by simply navigating back to that portion of the map at any time. This trick is immensely handy for people with WiFi-only iPads and iPod touches, as they’ll be able to be out and about with no internet connection and still see maps of areas important to them. This trick is also handy for those with 3G connections since cached maps will load faster and save roaming data charges if, for example, you are traveling in a foreign city.

Google Maps for iOS is a free download.

Source: TUAW.

The Full Letter Apple, Google, And Others Sent To U.S. Government Over NSA Transparency.

It's about time.

In response to the public’s outcry that tech companies are working with the NSA to pilfer personal info on targets of interest, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and others announced an alliance with civil liberties groups today demanding for more transparency by the U.S. government concerning wiretapping.

The coalition sent a letter today to President Obama and other leaders in Congress, urging for greater transparency around national security-related requests. Portions of the letter were published last night,

Source: Cult of Mac.

Everything You Need To Know About Apple And PRISM.


Today the story broke about PRISM, a supposedly top-secret program at the US National Security Agency (NSA) that has been in operation since 2007.

According to The Washington Post, current intelligence reporting increasingly relies on PRISM as its main source of raw data and is used in almost 1 out of every 7 intelligence reports these days.

Here’s the basic breakdown of what’s happening so far in the story, who’s involved, what’s being looked at, and more.

Who’s Involved?

  • The NSA and the FBI
  • Microsoft (2007), Yahoo (2008), Google (2009), Facebook (2009), PalTalk (2009), YouTube (2010), Skype (2011), AOL (2011), Apple (2012)

What’s Being Shared?

While specifics of what has actually been shared aren’t in the slideshow, the following types of files are called out:

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Images
  • Emails
  • Documents
  • Connection Logs
  • Live Chats

How Long Has This Been In Operation?

According to the slideshow document, at least since 2007, when Microsoft joined PRISM.

Has My Information Been Compromised?

It’s unclear what specific information has been shared, and even less clear who’s information has been shared. The PRISM document claims that the intelligence data is being gathered to analyze people’s contacts and movements over time, but it doesn’t say how such data is analyzed, or how individuals are chosen to be analyzed.

How Have The Companies Responded

Apple, Facebook, and Google have each responded with flat-out denials.

“We have never heard of PRISM,” said Apple spokesperson Steve Dowling in a statement. “We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”

In a statement to The Guardian, Google said that it “cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”

According to AllThingsD, Facebook said, “We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”

Where Can I See This Presentation?

The slide presentation is available viewable in an annotated version over at The Washington Post.

What Does The Government Have To Say?

According to TechCrunch, the director of US National Intelligence James R. Clapper said today that the clause in question, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is only for “foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States,” and “cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.”

He continues to say that such data gathering is used to protect our nation from a variety of threats, is entirely legal, and disclosure of such information is reprehensible and could risk the safety of Americans. He does not address anything about the companies who have issued statements.

This story is developing; please check back for updates as they happen.

Source: Cult of Mac.

Google’s Field Trip app gets you into 13 museums for free right now.

Museum buffs and tourists might want to download Google’s Field Trip app right now. The location-based app shows you cool things to do while on a trip. For a limited time, the app will also get you into 13 major US museums for free, as Google announced on the Field Trip Google+ page:

Rumor has it you can visit 13 museums in 6 cities for FREE with Field Trip…

RUMOR CONFIRMED!!! For a limited time you can walk into any of these for free:

Conservatory of Flowers, SF
California Academy of Sciences, SF
Walt Disney Family Museum, SF
Museum of Contemporary Art, LA
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Adler Planetarium, Chicago
The Field Museum, Chicago
Museum of the city of New York, NY
Museum of Arts and Design, NY
National Building Museum, DC
Portland Children’s Museum
Portland Art Museum
Pittock Mansion, Portland

If you are around one of the following 13 museums, you will get a Field Trip card with “Free Entry” in the title (check the ‘nearby’ tab). Show the card on your phone to the admissions staff and they’ll take care of the rest.

Enjoy your Field Trips!

Living in Europe I’m pretty spoiled, as almost every major museum is free. But looking at the list above — especially seeing three of Chicago’s best museums (my old stomping grounds) — leaves me feeling a little envious of my US friends at the moment.

Field Trip is a free download for iOS and Android.

Source: TUAW.