Slashdot Asks: Which Smart Speaker Do You Prefer? 234

Every tech company wants to produce a smart speaker these days. Earlier this month, Apple finally launched the HomePod, a smart speaker that uses Siri to answer basic questions and play music via Apple Music. In December, Google released their premium Google Home Max speaker that uses the Google Assistant and Google's wealth of knowledge to play music, answer questions, set reminders, and so on. It may be the most advanced smart speaker on the market as it has the hardware capable of playing high fidelity audio, and a digital assistant that can perform over one million actions. There is, however, no denying the appeal of the Amazon Echo, which is powered by the Alexa digital assistant. Since it first made its debut in late 2014, it has had more time to develop its skill set. Amazon says Alexa controls "tens of millions of devices," including Windows 10 PCs.

A new report from The Guardian, citing the industry site MusicAlly, says that Spotify is working on a line of "category defining" hardware products "akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles." The streaming music company has posted an ad for a senior product manager to "define the product requirements for internet connected hardware [and] the software that powers it." With Spotify looking to launch a smart speaker in the not-too-distant-future, the decision to purchase a smart speaker has become all the more difficult. Do you own a smart speaker? If so, which device do you own and why? Do you see a clear winner, or can they all satisfy your basic needs?

Mines Linked to Child Labor Are Thriving in Rush for Car Batteries ( 140

Metal vital to many electric vehicles has tripled in 18 months. From a report: The appetite for electric cars is driving a boom in small-scale cobalt production in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some mines have been found to be dangerous and employ child labor. Production from so-called artisanal mines probably rose by at least half last year, according to the estimates of officials at three of the biggest international suppliers of the metal, who asked not to be named because they're not authorized to speak on the matter. State-owned miner Gecamines estimates artisanal output accounted for as much as a quarter of the country's total production in 2017. That's a concern for carmakers from Volkswagen to Tesla, who are seeking to secure long-term supplies of the battery ingredient but don't want to be enmeshed in a scandal about unethical mining practices.

Tech giants including Apple and Microsoft endured bad publicity after a 2016 Amnesty International report said children were being sent down some Congolese mines to dig for cobalt destined for their gadgets. Pit and tunnel collapses killed dozens of workers in 2015, the advocacy group said. Cobalt has tripled in value in the last 18 months as the rise of electric vehicles intensifies competition for scarce resources. Two-thirds of the world's supply comes from Congo, the second-poorest nation. The boom in the metal, currently trading above $80,000 a metric ton, has triggered more mining in the cobalt-rich Katanga region, where sprawling hand-dug mines dot the landscape, and searching for ore is as commonplace as farming.


Lawmakers Worry About Rise of Fake Video Technology ( 194

Lawmakers are concerned that advances in video manipulation technology could set off a new era of fake news. Now legislators say they want to start working on fixes to the problem before it's too late. From a report: Technology experts have begun to sound the alarm on the new software, which lets users take existing videos and make high-quality altered video and audio that appears real. The emergence of the technology opens up a new world of hoaxes driven by doctored audio or video, and threatens to shake faith in the media even further. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the most vocal members of Congress on tech issues, painted a grim picture about what the advances could mean for the future of discerning truth in media. "Since we can't rely on the responsibility of individual actors or the platforms they use, I fully expect there will be a proliferation of these sorts of fictions to a degree that nearly drowns out actual facts," Wyden told The Hill. "For those who value real information, there will still be some reliable publications and news outlets, and their credibility will need to be guarded all the more intently by professional journalists," he added.

Sony May Launch an AI-powered Taxi Hailing System ( 32

Sony definitely isn't the first name you think of when you're looking for a ride, but that might change soon in its native Japan. From a report: Nikkei has learned that the tech heavyweight is leading an alliance of taxi companies (Checker Cab, Daiwa Motor Transportation, Green Cab, Hinomaru Kotsu and Kokusai Motorcars) in the creation of an AI-powered hailing platform. The algorithmic system would dispatch taxis more effectively by studying a host of conditions like traffic, weather and events. It might send a horde of drivers near the end of a concert, for instance.

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