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Alexa will soon gain a memory, converse more naturally, and automatically launch skills

Alexa will soon be able to recall information you’ve directed her to remember, as well as have more natural conversations that don’t require every command to begin with “Alexa.” She’ll also be able to launch skills in response to questions you ask, without explicit instructions to do so. The features are the first of what Amazon says are many launches this year that will make its virtual assistant more personalized, smarter, and more engaging. The news was announced this morning in a keynote presentation from the head of the Alexa Brain group, Ruhi Sarikaya, speaking at the World Wide Web Conference in Lyon, France. He explained that the Alexa Brain initiative is focused on improving Alexa’s ability to track context and memory within and across dialog sessions, as well as make it easier for users to discover and interact with Alexa’s now over 40,000 third-party skills. With the memory update, arriving soon to U.S. users, Alexa will be able to remember any information you ask her to, and retrieve it later. For example, you might direct Alexa to remember an important day by saying something like, “Alexa, remember that Sean’s birthday is June 20th.” Alexa will then reply, “Okay, I’ll remember that Sean’s birthday is June 20th.” This effectively turns Alexa into a way to offload information you’d otherwise have to store in your own brain, and is reminiscent of earlier bots, like Wonder , which were designed to remember anything you told it, for later retrieval over SMS or messaging platforms. Memory, of course, has also been one of Google Assistant’s more useful features – so it was time for Alexa to catch up on this front. In addition, Alexa will soon be able to have more natural conversations with users, thanks to something called “context carryover.” This means that Alexa will be able to understand follow-up questions and respond appropriately, even though you haven’t addressed her as “Alexa.” For instance, you could ask “Alexa, how is the weather in Seattle?” and then ask, “What about this weekend?” after Alexa responds. You can even change the subject, saying “Alexa, how’s the weather in Portland?,” then “How long does it take to get there?” The feature, says Sarikaya, takes advantage of deep learning models applied to the spoken language understanding pipeline, in order to have conversations that carry customers’ intent and entities within and across domains – like it did between weather and traffic, in the example above. It will also require the customer to enable Follow Up mode , which allows Alexa to continue a conversation even when the wake word isn’t said a second time. Natural conversations are also coming “soon” to Alexa device owners in the U.S., U.K.

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Credit Karma expands its identity theft monitoring tool to include dark web data

Credit Karma is best known for being the only reason anyone is ever willing to peek at their credit score, but the company has other things it wants you to be less stressed out about too. After introducing a free identity monitoring tool for its users late last year , Credit Karma is widening the scope of its fraud-fighting scans to include data from the dark web. Credit Karma’s existing ID monitoring tool searches 4.5 billion public breaches for a user’s personal data, but the improved service will scour additional breaches culled from the dark web. Added up, the tool will now search through 13 billion data breaches. By checking its own database of 80 million Credit Karma users against the information in both pools of data, the company can give users a head’s up when their info is compromised. “The problem is pervasive and the data set that we have is relatively comprehensive,” Anish Acharya, Credit Karma’s vice president of data products, told TechCrunch. Credit Karma partnered with security firm SpyCloud  for its databases. As the company mixes in the new dark web data, affected Credit Karma users that pop up in its scans will receive an alert so they can find more contextual information through the free tool and lock down their accounts accordingly. Credit Karma users can even specifically view which of their passwords are no longer safe to use so that they know which passwords to change. The company estimates that 65% of its users have experienced a data breach, whether they know it or not, so Credit Karma is well positioned to issue a wake up call about protecting identifying information online.

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From Ferraris to flying taxis: Q&A with Lilium’s new head of Product Design

Munich-based Lilium , the super-ambitious company developing an electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) jet and accompanying “air taxi” service, continues to hire top talent to make its vision a reality. The latest new recruitment is car design veteran Frank Stephenson, who has previously worked for Ferrari, Maserati and Mini, to name but a few. Considered one of the world’s most renowned and influential car designers in recent times, 58-year-old Stephenson’s portfolio includes iconic designs such as the BMW X5, New MINI, Ferrari F430, Maserati MC12 and McLaren P1. Now he’s embarking on adding the Lilium jet to that list. Officially starting next month, he’ll be tasked with recruiting an entirely new design team to shape both the interior and exterior of the jet itself, as well as a design language for the company’s wider infrastructure, including landing pads and departure lounges. In a call with Stephenson yesterday morning, I got to ask him why he’s ditched Ferraris for flying taxis, what his new role will entail more specifically and to dig a little deeper into how he thinks about design and why good design really matters. A lightly edited transcript of the full Q&A follows. TC: I don’t know a huge amount about designing cars, let alone designing cars that can fly. Designing a modern-day car involves a heck of a lot of people and designing something like the Lilium jet again involves a whole team of people. As head of design, how does your role fit into the larger machine of building a vehicle or “flying car?” So if you have a Michelin-rated restaurant and you’ve got to feed 100 people, you’re going to have quite a few cooks in there and the waiters and everybody else to run the machine.

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What the Tech? App of the Day: Work Time – WRCB-TV

WRCB-TV What the Tech? App of the Day : Work Time WRCB-TV If someone were to tell me a clock app would be the application used most on my iPhone, I would have laughed. Here I am though, sitting at my desk using the Work Time app while typing out this story. Work Time solves a simple problem you may not know ...

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What the Tech? App of the Day: Work Time – WRCB-TV

WRCB-TV What the Tech? App of the Day : Work Time WRCB-TV If someone were to tell me a clock app would be the application used most on my iPhone, I would have laughed. Here I am though, sitting at my desk using the Work Time app while typing out this story. Work Time solves a simple problem you may not know ...

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What the Tech? App of the Day: Work Time – WRCB-TV

WRCB-TV What the Tech? App of the Day : Work Time WRCB-TV If someone were to tell me a clock app would be the application used most on my iPhone, I would have laughed. Here I am though, sitting at my desk using the Work Time app while typing out this story. Work Time solves a simple problem you may not know ...

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Walmart launches ‘Check Out With Me’ for on-the-spot checkouts in hundreds of US stores

Walmart announced on Thursday it’s beginning to test new technology that arms store staff with mobile devices for checking out customers from the floor. The devices will first be put into use in Walmart’s “Lawn & Garden Centers” in more than 350 U.S. stores, where there’s the most need for a mobile checkout experience like this. Before, customers shopping for items like mulch, soil or flowers may have had to go inside the physical store to pay for their Lawn & Garden purchases, which was often challenging due to the size and weight of these items. Now, they’ll be able to pay on the spot with store staff’s help. The new service, which Walmart is calling “Check Out With Me,” involves store employees wearing a small carrying case equipped with a Bluetooth receipt printer. Their cellular device works as the barcode scanner and the credit card swiper for the transactions. Staff assists the customers by scanning large items — like bags of mulch — while it’s still on the shelf, so customers don’t have to load heavy carts and push them through the store or to one of the Lawn & Garden Center’s fixed checkout stations. They can just carry them straight to their car parked nearby. The service will help Walmart with its sales that take place outside the Lawn & Garden Center, too. “During the summer, we also sell a lot of items like mulch, live plants and potting soil outside of the store — similar to Home Depot or Lowe’s,” a spokesperson said. “This new option allows people to pay for those items on the spot versus paying in the store then going outside to load the items.” The retailer says it’s not hiring additional staff for Check Out With Me, but will use existing employees for the service.

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Oculus implements its own GDPR-compliant privacy controls

While Facebook is still struggling to regain user trust following a data fiasco that ultimately brought Zuckerberg to testify in front of Congress, the company still has plenty to do to ready itself for GDPR and appease EU lawmakers. This includes making sure that everything is up to snuff at its virtual reality company, Oculus . The VR company announced today that it will begin rolling out changes, including a user-facing Privacy Center, an updated Terms of Service with a Code of Conduct to ensure that VR users operate in a safe environment. A flaw-by-flaw guide to Facebook’s new GDPR privacy changes The Oculus “My Privacy Center” feature will launch next month on May 20, and will allow users to take a look at the data that Oculus has on them while managing preferences. Users notably won’t be able to see anonymized data that Oculus collects, which includes the in-VR movements that users make with their headsets and controllers. Data also not available for download includes stuff that’s only stored on your device and data like your credit card info that they keep stored securely. The Code of Conduct forbids users from accessing or promoting sexually explicit content, using hateful or racially offensive language, promoting illegal activities, or harassing other users. Here’s the full thing: You may not use or promote sexually explicit, abusive or obscene content. You may not use or promote language or content that would qualify as hateful or racially offensive. We don’t allow content that attacks people based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, diseases or disability. You may not harass, bully, threaten other users, or encourage other users to do so

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With loans of just $10, this startup has built a financial services powerhouse in emerging markets

Peris Kimeli and Betsy Cheruyot were students at Kenyatta University thinking about launching a business when they applied for their first loans from the mobile lending company, Tala . Hoping to get a clothing business off the ground and make some money to live on while going to school, the two young Kenyans downloaded the Tala mobile app, and within minutes received loans totaling about $15. “Between us and poverty, we had about 200 shillings,” Kimeli said of her early days starting their business. “We were like, what are we going to eat? Our parents said, ‘No. We’re not going to send money… You go figure it out’ So we went and we did that.” Kimeli and Cheruyot took that $15 loan and went to Nairobi’s famous secondhand market , Gikomba, where they bought 15 dresses at 100 shillings each and resold them in dorms and hostels for 200 shillings. “Two remained, but we had no problem — since we could keep them, we could wear them. By the end of the month, we had 7000 shillings,” Kimeli said. “We borrowed again — this time we borrowed 3000 shillings — we went out and bought some more dresses, and that’s how we’ve been.” Peris Kimeli and Betsy Cheruyot in Nairobi. Photo courtesy of Tala Similar stories are playing out in cities across the world — in countries like India, Mexico, the Philippines and Tanzania — all because of Tala, a young, Santa Monica, Calif.-based, financial services startup. Now in its fourth year, Tala has already distributed around $300 million in loans to 1.3 million borrowers like Kimeli. The company plans to continue expanding its geographical reach and range of financial services, thanks in part to $65 million in new financing from billionaire backed investment funds like Steve Case’s Revolution Growth fund

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Here’s the 23rd batch of 500 Startups companies

500 Startups may soon be coming up on the one-year mark for the end of a tumultuous saga involving its founder, but its accelerator classes still continue to plug along — and its next batch is now getting ready to roll. The firm’s 23rd batch of startups this year consists of the usual mix of business to business and consumer companies (even coffee) that end up in each class. This class is definitely a smaller one, but it still seems to spread a pretty wide number of different verticals. There’s also, of course, a blockchain track for this class, though a small percentage of the startups in it are taking part of that — and there was still a certain rigor they had to have to run through it. “For every major tech movement, for every tech phase, there’s the infrastructure phase and the deployment phase,” 500 Startups partner Marvin Laio said. “Our view, with the blockchain, we’re in the infrastructure phase. A lot of these projects outside that we see and read about, they’re kind of bad. They’re really applications. There’s no point having a mobile app if you don’t have the app store. You need to build out the app store. For better or worse, we’re in the infrastructure phase right now.” The firm is still clearly making some pretty big changes, including an unconventional deal with the Abu Dhabi Financial Group (ADFG) that gives it a stake in the firm’s parent company. The terms of that deal weren’t disclosed, it was another move among many by CEO Christine Tsai to begin to rework the mechanics of how the firm works — especially as it hopes to succeed as both a venture fund as as a program for entrepreneurs looking to get their companies off the ground. Dave McClure, the firm’s co-founder, resigned last year following allegations of sexual misconduct , and since then it’s been trying to get back to business as usual. 500 Startups takes a similar approach to other accelerators, where they will invest around $150,000 for a small chunk of equity and then take on a small amount of that back (a little more than $37,000) for program fees. The firm has primarily been known for its savvy when it comes to growth and marketing, so the support entrepreneurs get usually has that as a core part of the experience

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What the Tech? App of the Day: Upwork – WRCB-TV

WRCB-TV What the Tech? App of the Day : Upwork WRCB-TV Never before have so many Americans had a second job. Not the kind of second-job that you might picture, but a side-gig or side-hustle. A job where they call the shots. Many times those side-gigs turn into a full-time career. If that's the kind of ... and more »

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What the Tech? App of the Day: Upwork – WRCB-TV

WRCB-TV What the Tech? App of the Day : Upwork WRCB-TV Never before have so many Americans had a second job. Not the kind of second-job that you might picture, but a side-gig or side-hustle. A job where they call the shots. Many times those side-gigs turn into a full-time career. If that's the kind of ... and more »

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How To Turn Off In-App Purchases on Android – Ubergizmo

How To Turn Off In-App Purchases on Android Ubergizmo In this tutorial we are going to be showing you how to seamlessly disable automatic in-app purchases, thus giving you a few seconds before ultimately making the decision whether to buy those extra credits, or preventing a malicious third-party from ... and more »

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Liberis raises £57.5M to offer finance for small businesses paid back via customer card transactions

Liberis , the London-based fintech that provides finance for small businesses, has raised £57.5 million in new funding to help support the company’s growth. The alternative finance provider makes loans against a company’s future credit and debit card sales. The majority of the new capital being raised by Liberis is debt, which in turn will enable it to issue more loans. The facility is being provided by British Business Investments (the commercial arm of the tax payer-funded British Business Bank), Paragon Bank, and BCI Ltd. In addition, Blenheim Chalcot has made an equity investment into Liberis. The so-called “digital venture builder” also previously backed Clearscore, the credit scoring startup recently acquired by Experian . Providing a new financing option as a replacement for a traditional bank loan or extended overdraft — which is increasingly hard for small businesses to come by — Liberis provides funding from £1,000 to £500,000 based on a company’s projected credit and debit card sales. However, the clever part is that the loan is paid back via a pre-agreed percentage of the business’ digital transactions, making it especially attractive to seasonal businesses that have very uneven sales throughout different times of the year. There isn’t a time limit placed on when a loan has to be repaid, either. Instead, the repayment schedule is directly tied to the size and pace of a small business’ card transactions. In a call with Rob Straathof, CEO of Liberis, he conceded that this means the fintech startup is taking on more of the risk, but says the company is seeing the vast majority of loans paid back within the projected timeframe. To help manage risk and make the required sales projections, Liberis uses various data points, including transactions pulled in from a number payment platform partners such as Worldpay, and Sagepay. Similarly, it also integrates with take-out marketplace Just Eat, which gives the startup the ability to offer financing to small restaurants. The advent of Open Banking, which lets bank account holders share their transaction data via an API, will also enable Liberis to extend its reach.

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