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Interesting Announcements from Alibaba, Google and Microsoft

March 23, 2015

This month had three very different announcements about face recognition from Alibaba, Google, and Microsoft. Nice to see that Sensory is in good company!!!

Alibaba’s CEO Jack Ma discussed and demoed the possibility of using face verification for the very popular Alipay.

A couple interesting things about this announcement…First, I have to say, with a name like Alibaba, I am a little let down that they’re not using “Open Sesame” as a voice password to go with or instead of the face authentication… All joking aside, I do think relying on facial recognition as the sole means of user authentication is risky, and think they would be better served using a solution that integrates both face and voice recognition (something like our own TrulySecure), to ensure the utmost security of their customers’ linked bank accounts.

Face is considered one of the more “convenient” methods of biometrics because you just hold your phone out and it works! Well, at least it should… A couple of things I noticed in the Alibaba announcement: Look at the picture…Jack Ma is using both hands to carefully center his photo, and looking at the image of the phone screen tells us why. He needs to get his face very carefully centered on this outline to make it work. Why? Well, it’s a technique used to improve accuracy, but this improved accuracy, trades off the key advantage of face recognition, convenience, to make the solution more robust. Also the article notes that it’s a cloud based solution. To me cloud based means slower, dependent on a connection, and putting personal privacy more at risk.  At Sensory, we believe in keeping data secure, especially when it comes to something like mobile payments, which is why we design our technologies to be “embedded” on the device – meaning no biometric data has to be sent to the cloud, and our solutions don’t require an internet connection to function. Additionally, with TrulySecure, we combine face and voice recognition, making authentication quick and simple, not to mention more secure, and less spoofable than face-only solutions. By utilizing a multi-biometric authentication solution like TrulySecure,  the biometric is far less environmentally sensitive and even more convenient!

Mobile pay solutions are on the rise and as more hit the market differentiators like authentication approach, solution accuracy, convenience and most of all data security will continue to be looked at more closely. We believe that the embedded multi-biometric approach to user authentication is best for mobile pay solutions.

Also, Google announced that its deep learning FaceNet is nearly 100% accurate.

Everybody (even Sensory) is using deep learning neural net techniques for things like face and speech recognition. Google’s announcement seems to have almost no bearing on their Android based face authentication, which came in the middle of the pack of the five different face authentication systems we recently tested. So, why does Google announce this? Two reasons: – 1) Reaction to Baidu’s recent announcement that their deep learning speech recognition is the best in the world: 2) To counter Facebook’s announcement last year that their DeepFace is the best face recognition in world. My take – it’s really hard to tell whose solution is best on these kind of things, and the numbers and percentages can be deceiving. However, Google is clearly doing research experiments on high-accuracy face matching and NOT real world implementation, and Facebook is using face recognition in a real world setting to tag photos of you. Real-world facial recognition is WAY harder to perfect, so my praise goes out to Facebook for their skill in tagging everyone’s picture to reveal to our friends and family things might not have otherwise seen us doing!

Lastly, Microsoft’s announced Windows Hello.

This is an approach to getting into your Windows device with a biometric (face, iris, or fingerprint). Microsoft has done a very nice job with this. They joined the FIDO alliance and are using an on-device biometric. This approach is what made sense to us at Sensory, because you can’t just hack into it remotely, you must have the device AND the biometric! They also addressed privacy by storing a representation of the biometric. I think their approach of using a 3D IR camera for Face ID is a good approach for the future. This extra definition and data should yield much better accuracy than what is possible with today’s standard 2D cameras and should HELP with convenience because it could be better at angles can work in the dark. Microsoft claims 1 in 100,000 false accepts (letting the wrong person in). I always think it’s silly when companies make false accept claims without stating the false reject numbers (when the right person doesn’t get in). There’s always a tradeoff. For example I could say my coffee mug uses a biometric authenticator to let the right user telepathically levitate it and it has less than a 1 in a billion false accepts (it happens to also have a 100% false reject  since even the right biometric can’t telepathically levitate it!). Nevertheless, with a 3D camera I think Microsoft’s face authentication can be more accurate than Sensory’s 2D face authentication. BUT, its unlikely that the face recognition on its own will ever be more accurate than our TrulySecure, which still offers a lower False Accept rate than Microsoft – and less than 10% False Reject rate to boot!

Nevertheless, I like the announcement of 3D cameras for face recognition and am excited to see how their system performs.

Mobile World Congress Day 1

March 3, 2015

It feels like I had a whole week’s worth of the trade show wrapped into one day! By the time mid week hits, I’ll surely be ready to head home! Here are some of the highlights from the first day of Mobile World Congress 2015:

  • First a word about Catalonia. That’s where Barcelona is…in the heart of Catalonia, a province of Spain. Don’t expect delayed meetings, inefficiencies, relaxed long lunches or anything like that. The Catalonians have the precision of Germans (to continue my gross stereotyping!), and my experience with one of the largest trade shows on the planet is that it’s going off without a hitch! I picked up my badge at the airport in a five-minute line that was well staffed and moved rapidly. I could just about walk into the show yesterday morning. The subways and trains though crowded and overheated ran extremely smoothly. Kudos to the show management for pulling off such a difficult feat!
  • I’d be remiss without mentioning the Galaxy S6. Samsung invited us to the launch and of course they continue to use Sensory in a relationship that has grown quite strong over the years.  Samsung continues to innovate with the Edge, and other products that everyone is talking about. It’s amazing how far Apple took the mantle in the first iPhone and how companies like Samsung and the Android system seem to now be leading the charge on innovation!
  • My favorite product that doesn’t feature Sensory technology that I bumped into was an electronic jump rope. They put sensors in the handles and a visual display shows across the field of the rope, kind of like those clocks that rapidly flash LED’s as the pendulum quickly moves back and forth in order to display the time. I talked with Alex Woo from Tangram and he said they were going to launch a crowdfunding campaign. I gave Alex a demo of our TrulyHandsfree with jump ropers jumping and all the show noise and of course it worked flawlessly. It would be really cool to be able to ask things like “How much time,” “How many jumps,” “What’s my heart rate,” or “How many calories burned” and so on, and the display would make voice control so much more functional!
  • We had a couple of partnership announcements here at the show, supporting both Qualcomm and Synopsys – both great partners to add to our support mix, and always nice when its customers driving our platform directions. The Qualcomm platform is interesting because it’s not their standard platform for 3rd parties to support. As far as I know they opened it up to Sensory and ONLY Sensory, and already we are seeing much interest!
  • Last night ZTE had a press party to indoctrinate Sensory and NXP into its Smart Voice Alliance. ZTE is really putting some forward thinking into the user experience and their research shows how much people want a voice interface but how dissatisfying the current state of the art actually is. Sensory’s hoping to change that! We’ll make one of our biggest announcements in history over the next month… and I’ll let you in on the secret (it’s on our website already!) We call it TrulyNatural, and it will be the highest accuracy large vocabulary embedded speech engine that the world has ever seen!

Hasta Luego!!!

Deep Listening in the Cloud

February 11, 2015

The advent of “always on” speech processing has raised concerns about organizations spying on us from the cloud.

4081596290_5ccb708d7d_mIn this Money/CNN article, Samsung is quoted as saying, “Samsung does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties.” But, does this also mean that your voice data isn’t being saved at all? Not necessarily. In a separate article, the speech recognition system in Samsung’s TVs is shown to be an always-learning cloud-based system solution from Nuance. I would guess that there is voice data being saved, and that Nuance is doing it.

This doesn’t mean Nuance is doing anything evil; this is just the way that machine learning works. There has been this big movement towards “deep” learning, and what “deep” really means is more sophisticated learning algorithms that require more data to work. In the case of speech recognition, the data needed is speech data, or speech features data that can be used to train and adapt the deep nets.

But just because there is a necessary use for capturing voice data and invading privacy, doesn’t mean that companies should do it. This isn’t just a cloud-based voice recognition software issue; it’s an issue with everyone doing cloud based deep learning. We all know that Google’s goal in life is to collect data on everything so Google can better assist you in spending money on the right things. We in fact sign away our privacy to get these free services!

I admit guilt too. When Sensory first achieved usable results for always-on voice triggers, the basis of our TrulyHandsfree technology, I applied for a patent on a “background recognition system” that listens to what you are talking about in private and puts together different things spoken at different times to figure out what you want…. without you directly asking for it.

Can speech recognition be done without having to send all this private data to the cloud? Sure it can! There’s two parts in today’s recognition systems: 1) The wake up phrase; 2) The cloud based deep net recognizer – AND NOW THEY CAN BOTH BE DONE ON DEVICE!

Sensory pioneered the low-power wake up phrase on device (item 1), now we have a big team working on making an EMBEDDED deep learning speech recognition system so that no personal data needs to be sent to the cloud. We call this approach TrulyNatural, and it’s going to hit the market very soon! We have benchmarked TrulyNatural against state-of-the-art cloud-based deep learning systems and have matched and in some cases bested the performance!

An Inside look at Sensory’s Strategic Endeavors

January 21, 2015

I know it’s been months since Sensory has blogged and I thank you for pinging me to ask what’s going on…Well, lot’s going on at Sensory. There are  really 3 areas that we are putting a strategic focus on, and I’ll briefly mention each:

  1. Applications. We have put our first applications into the Google Play store, and it is our goal over the coming year to put increased focus on making applications and in particular making good user experiences through Sensory technologies in these applications.
    Download AppLock or VoiceDial
    These are both free products and more intended as a means to help tune our models and get real user feedback to refine the applications so they delight end users! We will offer the applications with the technology to our mobile, tablet, and PC customers so they can build them directly into their customers’ user experience.
  2. Authentication. Sensory has been a leader in embedded voice authentication for years. Over the past year, though, we have placed increase focus in this area, and we have some EXCELLENT voice authentication technologies that we will be rolling out into our SDK’s in the months ahead.
    Of course, we aren’t just investing in voice! We have a vision program in place and our vision focus is also on authentication. We call this fusion of voice and vision TrulySecure™, and we think it offers the best security with the most convenience. Try out AppLock in the above link and I hope you will agree that it’s great.
  3. TrulyNatural™. For many years now, Sensory has been a leader in on device speech recognition. We have seen our customers going to cloud-based solutions for the more complex and large vocabulary tasks. In the near future this will no longer be necessary! We have built from the ground up an embedded deep neural net implementation with FST, bag of words, robust semantic parsing and all the goodies you might expect from a state of the art large vocabulary speech recognition solution! We recently benchmarked a 500,000 word vocabulary and we are measuring about a 10% word error rate (WER). On smaller 5K vocabulary tasks the WER is down to the 7-8% range. This is as good as or better than today’s published state-of-the-art cloud based solutions!

Of course, there’s a lot more going on than just this…we recently announced partnerships with Intel and Nok Nok Labs, and we have further lowered power consumption in touchless control and always-on voice systems with the addition of our hardware block for low power sound detection.

Happy 2015!

Is Voice Activation Unsafe?

October 15, 2014

A couple of news headlines have appeared recently asserting that voice activation is unsafe. I thought it was time for Sensory to weigh in on a few aspects of this since we are the pioneers in voice activation:

  1. In-Car Speech Recognition. There have been a few studies like AAA/U of Utah
    The headlines from these studies claim speech recognition creates distraction while driving. Other recent studies have shown that voice recognition in the car is one of the biggest complaints. But if you read into these studies carefully, what you really find are several important aspects:

    • What they call “hands free” is not 100% TrulyHandsfree. It requires touch to activate so right there I agree it can take your eyes of the road, and potentially your hands off the wheels.
    • It’s really bad UX design that is distracting and not the speech recognition per se.
    • It’s not that people don’t want speech recognition. It’s that they don’t want speech recognition that fails all the time.

    Here’s my conclusion on all this denigration of in-car speech recognition: there are huge problems with what the automotive companies have been deploying. The UX is bad and the speech recognition is bad. That doesn’t mean that speech recognition is not needed in the car…on the contrary, what’s needed is good speech recognition implemented in good design.

    From my own experience it isn’t just that the speech recognition is bad and the UX is bad. The flaky Bluetooth connections and the problems of changing phones adds to the perception of speech not working. When I’m driving, I use speech recognition all the time, and it’s GREAT, but I don’t use the recognizer in my Lexus…I use my MotoX with the always on trigger, and then with Google Now, I can make calls or listen to music, etc.

  2. Lack of Security. The CTO of AVG blasted speech recognition because it is unsafe.Now I previously resisted the temptation to comment on this, because the CTO’s boss (the CEO) is on my board of directors. I kind of agree and I kind of disagree with the CTO. I agree that speech recognition CAN BE unsafe…that’s EXACTLY why we add speaker verification into our wake up triggers…then ONLY the right person can get in. It’s really kind of surprising to me that Apple and Google haven’t done this yet! On the other hand, there are plenty of tasks that don’t really require security. The idea of a criminal lurking outside my home and controlling my television screen seemed more humorous than scary. In the case of TVs, I do think password protection is great but it’s really more for the purpose of identifying who is using the television and to call up their favorites, their voice adapted templates, and their restrictions (if any) on what they can watch AND how long they can watch…yeah I’m thinking about my kids and their need to get homework done. :-)

Way to go Moto Voice

September 5, 2014

I was very excited to hear Motorola’s announcements today about the new Moto X, MotoG, Moto Hint and Moto 360.

What particularly caught my ear was the statement that they were changing the name from Touchless Control to Moto Voice.  They made this decision because so many people thought the technology came from Google in the form of Android, and Moto wanted everyone to know it DIDN’T come from Google.

Actually…It came from Sensory.  At least we were an important part of it!!! We have been working on the cool new user defined triggers and are excited that Moto has adopted them for the flagship MotoX (Write-up).

This feature was announced in our TrulyHandsfree 3.0

The new Moto Hint headset is really cool too. It’s a bit like Intel’s Jarvis headset that was announced by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich at CES (and of course uses Sensory!). Here’s a release we did a while back that tells about the technology deployed to connect a Bluetooth headset to a handset through a seamless voice command sequence, Press Release.

Of course the Moto360 is AWESOME, and has some pretty cool voice control features. Yes, Sensory has done an “OK Google” trigger…we even benchmarked our trigger against Google’s…I might share the results in an upcoming blog if there is interest.

I Love Robots!

July 31, 2014

Yeah, I grew up in an era of watching robots on TV and in the movies, and reading about them in books and comic strips. They were and still are a part of our media culture. My goal in life has been to live in a Jetsons-like world! Well, not really, but I do have a film slide of Rosie the Maid up on my wall, and the mod, Googie, mid-century future style from the Jetsons is definitely my style.

It’s been fun at Sensory to be part of a robot revolution in toys. We have put speech technologies into over 50 robotic creatures from dolls to strange new alien things like Furby. When Aibo first shipped, we had half a dozen companies come to us with awesome designs for new low cost robotic dogs that could respond to their masters’ voices!

Here’s a fun realistic looking robot dog – Scamps.  Sensory was in this a few years ago, and it seems to be enjoying a huge comeback in 2014.

More recently we were in Intel’s “Jarvis” headset…When we first created the Jarvis trigger, I didn’t get the name. Then I saw the movie Ironman! :-)

Sensory has designed a lot of robotic technologies beyond speech recognition and synthesis. We have platforms such as sound sourcing, where a robot with two mics can locate the speaker through triangulation. We have sonic networking as a low cost wireless protocol so robots can take commands from TV commercials or YouTube videos or even other robots. We even have made lip synchronization approaches and pitch detection technologies so robots can mimic their owners in a fun and playful way.

The rise of robotic vacuum and window cleaners and non-toy robotic applications is really Neato (yeah that’s a pun!) Of course there have been a lot of beer delivery home robots over the years too, but none of them are making it into the mainstream.

The magic however has not yet really hit, because I want the fun, playfulness, and interactivity of the toys but with utility added in, so it really is more like the Jetsons or Lost in Space.

Jibo is a new robot that might foot this bill, and it seems that I’m not the only one that likes the concept,  as it is getting pretty close to being one of the Top 10 funded Indiegogo campaigns of all time!

Spoofing Biometrics

July 25, 2014

I see a bit of irony that a great Saturday Night Live alumnus is launching a campaign to decrease spoofing. I’m talking about Senator Al Franken, who has been looking into the problem of stolen fingerprints, see article.

Senator Franken challenges Samsung and Apple with some fair concerns about the problem of stolen or spoofed biometrics. The issue is that most biometrics that could be stolen can’t be easily replaced. We only have one face, two eyes, and 10 fingers, so not a lot of chances to replace or change them if they are stolen.

The mobile phone companies, challenged on the fingerprint issue, had two responses:

  1. The biometric data is ON DEVICE. This is very important because when it’s stored in the clouds it becomes much more accessible to a hacker AND much more desirable because the payoff is a whole lot of user information. Cloud security is often hacked into, such as the recent break-in of the European Central Bank. In fact many banks I have spoken to insist that passwords can’t be stored in the clouds because they are just too easy to hack that way.
  2. The fingerprint biometric is not stored as a fingerprint image, but as some sort of mathematical representation. I’m not sure I understand this argument because if the digital representation can be copied and replicated, then the system is cracked whether or not it looks like a fingerprint.

I think Franken is right to question the utility of biometric fingerprints, because a product like Sensory’s TrulySecure (combining voice and vision authentication) offers a large number of advantages:

  1. The TrulySecure biometric is not easy to copy or find. Unlike a fingerprint which gets left everywhere, a voice print with a video image of a person saying a particular phrase is NOT easy to find, and even if well recorded, would fall apart with Sensory’s anti-spoofing technology that requires a live image.
  2. The TrulySecure biometric is readily changeable. Unlike the nine chances that a user has to replace a fingerprint, there are a virtually unlimited number of TrulySecure password phrases that can be used. If by some nearly impossible chance a TrulySecure biometric phrase is copied, it can be changed in a matter of seconds and a virtually unlimited number of times.
  3. TrulySecure works across conditions. Every biometric seems to have a failure mode. Fingerprint sensors seem to require a highly directionalized swipe of a very clean finger. If I cut my finger or have a little peanut butter on it, it just doesn’t work. Likewise a voiceprint by itself might fail in high noise, and a faceprint might fail in low lighting, but that magical dual biometric fusion in TrulySecure seems immune to conditions.

Here’s a demo I gave to UberGizmo in a somewhat dark and very noisy hotel lobby. I like this demo because it shows a real world situation and how FAST TrulySecure works.

Here’s a more canned demo on Sensory’s home page that better showcases some of the anti-spoofing features.

Random Blogger Thoughts

June 30, 2014

  • TrulySecure™ is now announced!!!! This is the first on device fusion of voice and vision for authentication, and it really works AMAZINGLY well. I’m so proud of our new computer vision team and in Sensory’s expansion from speech recognition to speech and vision technologies. Now we are much more than “The Leader in Speech Technologies for Consumer Electronics”- we are “The Leader in Speech and Vision Technology for Consumer Products!” Hey check out the new TrulySecure video on our home page, and our new TrulySecure Product Brief. We hope and expect that TrulySecure will have the same HUGE impact on the market as Sensory had with TrulyHandsfree, the technology that pioneered always on touch less control!
  • Google I/O. Android wants to be everywhere: in our cars, in our homes, and in our phones. They are willing to spend billions of dollars to do it. Why? To observe our behaviors, which in turn will help provide us more of what we want…and they will also assist in those purchases. Of course this is what Microsoft and Apple and others want as well, but right now Google has the best cloud based voice experience, and if you ask me it’s the best user experience that will win the game. Seems like they should try and move ahead on the client, but lucky for Sensory we are staying ahead!
  • Rumors about Samsung acquiring Nuance…Why would they spend $7B for Nuance when they can pick up a more unique solution from Sensory for only $1B? Yeah, that’s a joke, and is definitely not intended as an offer or solicitation to sell Sensory!
  • OH! Sensory has a new logo! We made it to celebrate our 20 year anniversary!

Touch-less Control Wins!

June 9, 2014

I still subscribe to the San Jose Mercury News, as they do a good job of tech business reporting. One of my favorite Mercury News writers is a true critic in the literary sense of the term, Troy Wolverton. Troy rarely raves and is typically critical, but in a smart, logical, and unemotional way.

A few days back he started writing about Microsoft’s  Cortana and said “Watch out Siri, someone wants your job.”

I was eager to read his review of Cortana this morning and in particular his comparison with Siri. He ended up giving it a 7/10, and concluding Siri was still ahead. What I thought was most interesting though was that in his final summary, he compared three products and three assistants based on the ease of calling up each of those assistants:

  • Cortana – required two touch steps to activate the personal voice assistant
  • Siri – required one touch step to activate the personal voice assistant
  • MotoX – The best, because you can just start talking with the keyword phrase “OK Google Now” making a TrulyHandsfree experience!!

Motorola is Sensory’s customer, and I am happy to read that Troy gets it and considers this front end activation an important metric in comparing personal assistants!

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