A thought on improving voice user interface while ensuring privacy

Voice user interface is going to be one of the ways we interact with our devices as we go about our daily lives. It is just a very intuitive way for us because we communicate primarily via voice with text and images to complement.

But there still are various problems that need people to work on them to improve the overall experience. One of it is related to how the AI behind voice user interface can interact with us more naturally, like how we interact with fellow human beings.

A premium Medium article written by Cheryl Platz got me thinking about that. It also covered a little on privacy and why it is a contributing factor that make it difficult for current generation of AIs to speak more naturally and understand the context when we speak. Unless, companies don’t give a shit about our privacy and start collecting even more data.

In this article, I am going to share what I thought could help improve the AI and ensure user privacy.

Current Implementations and Limitations

What an AI needs to be better at understanding and responding in ways most useful to us are processing power, a good neural network that allows it to self-learn, and a database to store whatever it has learnt.

The cloud is the best way for an AI to gain access to a processing power and huge enough database. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft offer cloud computing and storage services via their AWS and Azure platform respectively at very low cost. Even Google offers such services via their Compute Engine.

The problem with the cloud is reduced level of confidence when privacy is involved. Anything you store up there is vulnerable, available for retrieval through security flaws or misconfigurations. Companies could choose to encrypt those data via end-to-end encryption to help with protect user’s privacy but the problem is the master keys are owned by said companies. They could decrypt those data whenever they want.

Or you could do it like what Apple did with Siri, storing data locally, and use Differential Privacy to help ensure anonymity but it reduces the AI capabilities because it doesn’t have access to sufficient amount of personal data. Two, Siri runs on devices like Apple Watch, iPhones and iPads, which could be a problem when it comes to processing and compute capabilities, and having enough information to understand the user.

Although those devices have more processing power than room-sized mainframes from decades ago, it’s still not enough, energy-efficiency and capability wise, to handle highly complex neural networks for better experience with voice user interfaces.

Apple did try to change that with its A11 Bionic SoC that has a neural engine. Companies like Qualcomm, Imagination Technologies, and even NVIDIA are also contributing to increase local processing power with energy efficiency for AI through their respective CPU and GPU products.

Possible Solution

The work on the hardware by companies should continue so that there will be even more powerful and energy efficient processors for AI to use.

In addition to that, what we need is a standard, wireless-based protocol (maybe bluetooth) for the AI on our devices, irrespective of companies, to talk to each other when they are near to each other and in our home network. This way, the AI on each of those devices can share information and perform distributed computing, thereby improving its accuracy, overall understanding of the user, and respond accordingly.

A common software kernel is also necessary to provide different implementation of neural network a standardized way of doing distributed computing efficiently and effectively.

So now, imagine Siri talking to Alexa, Google Assistant or even Cortana via this protocol and vice versa.

Taking privacy into account, information exchanged via this protocol should be encrypted by default with keys owned only by the user. Any data created or stored should only reside on device also encrypted and nowhere else. Taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, the generated keys should come from some kind of hardware-based “Secure Enclave”.

To further improve the neural network, Differential Privacy should be applied on any query or information sent by the AI to the cloud for processing.


The above is really just a thought of how current the AIs powering voice user interfaces can be improved.

At the end, it’s really up to the companies to decide if they want to come together and improve all our lives taking into account our privacy and security.


10 Science News Roundup #17

Here are 10 science news that I find very interesting. They cover topics that I care about.

Life’s building blocks observed in spacelike environment – Where do the molecules required for life originate? It may be that small organic molecules first appeared on earth and were later combined into larger molecules, such as proteins and carbohydrates. But a second possibility is that they originated in space, possibly within our solar system. A new study, published this week in the Journal of Chemical Physics, from AIP Publishing, shows that a number of small organic molecules can form in a cold, spacelike environment full of radiation. Science Daily

3-D printed microfibers could provide structure for artificially grown body parts – Much as a frame provides structural support for a house and the chassis provides strength and shape for a car, a team of engineers believes they have a way to create the structural framework for growing living tissue using an off-the-shelf 3-D printer. Science Daily

Jupiter’s massive Great Red Spot is at least 350 kilometers deep – Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has deep roots. Data from the first pass of NASA’s Juno spacecraft over the incessant storm show that its clouds stretch at least 350 kilometers down into the planet’s atmosphere. That means the storm is about as deep as the International Space Station is high above the Earth. Science News

AI eavesdrops on dolphins and discovers six unknown click types – A new computer program has an ear for dolphin chatter. Science News

Scientists Are Investigating Whether Or Not An Alien Probe Just Passed Us By – Sometimes in science, you have to chase the longshots and take a chance on something so unlikely it feels silly to invest in it, because the payoff would be so huge if it worked. This is why the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope will be spending time examining the first known interstellar visitor to the Solar System, just in case it is an alien spacecraft. IFLScience

New Nanoparticle Technology Detects Cancer Sooner – In what scientists are calling an exciting advancement in cancer technology research, a team from Rutgers University have invented a cutting-edge method to detect and track cancerous tumors sooner than existing technologies. IFLScience

This Pacific Island Appeared Only 3 Years Ago, And Could Be Doomed Already – Three years ago, the place you’re reading about now did not exist. Science Alert

Officials Say This Whale Species Could Become Extinct After a Devastating Year – US officials have warned that, unless we take immediate action, it’s highly possible that rare North Atlantic right whales could become extinct. Science Alert

How to Make It Easier to Wake Up in The Morning, According to Science – Getting a good sleep can be tough, and this can lead to feeling less than refreshed when you wake up in the morning. Science Alert

When tumors fuse with blood vessels, clumps of breast cancer cells can spread – If you want to beat them, join them. Some breast cancer tumors may follow that strategy to spread through the body. Science News

10 Tech News Roundup #17

Here are 10 tech news that I found interesting.

Zero-day iOS HomeKit vulnerability allowed remote access to smart accessories including locks, fix rolling out – A HomeKit vulnerability in the current version of iOS 11.2 has been demonstrated to 9to5Mac that allows unauthorized control of accessories including smart locks and garage door openers. Our understanding is Apple has rolled out a server-side fix that now prevent unauthorized access from occurring while limiting some functionality, and an update to iOS 11.2 coming next week will restore that full functionality. 9to5Mac

Apple hires yet another veteran TV programming exec for its original content efforts – As part of its growing original content efforts, Apple has hired programming veteran Michelle Lee to join its worldwide video department, as reported by Variety. Lee has previously worked on popular shows for several major networks as a producing partner at Universal Television’s True Jack Productions… 9to5Mac

Nvidia’s $2,999 Titan V is a 110 teraflop GPU for AI processing – Nvidia cards are the de facto standard for running machine learning workloads and today, the company added yet another high-end compute-centric card to its line-up: the Titan V. This card, which is based on Nvidia’s Volta architecture, features 21.1 billion transistors on a 815 mm2 chip that can produce a full 110 teraflops of compute power. Techcrunch

Uber lands investment from Singapore’s largest taxi operator in blow to rival Grab – Uber has struck a major deal in Southeast Asia after ComfortDelGro, Singapore’s largest taxi operator, announced [PDF] it has agreed to buy a majority share of the ride-hailing giant’s Singapore-based car rental business. Techcrunch

Uber reportedly paid a 20-year-old man to keep silent about security breach – A 20-year-old man was responsible for the massive data breach at Uber last year, and the company paid him to destroy the data through its bug bounty program, reports Reuters. In November, Uber revealed it suffered from a cyberattack in October 2016 that exposed the private data of 57 million drivers and customers, which it then covered up. Uber allegedly paid hackers a $100,000 ransom to delete the data and not disclose what had happened to the media and public. The company didn’t say how the hacker was paid, or who he was. The Verge

Bitcoin value tops $16,000 and shows no signs of slowing down – Bitcoin’s track record is a lot like a manic-depressive illness, defined by extremely high peaks and incredibly deep valleys. Judging by its latest rally, the popular cryptocurrency’s volatility isn’t going to normalize anytime soon. Techspot

Intel Nervana processor goes beyond terabit bandwidth with refined architecture – Earlier this year, Intel showed off its research and development efforts to build the Intel Nervana Neural Network Processor. The newly designed chip will far surpass any general-purpose processors for machine learning and artificial intelligence applications. Best yet, it is a product that actually is going to make it to market. Techspot

AirPods will be even more ubiquitous in 2018, says report – Get ready to see even more of those distinctive AirPod stems sticking out of ears everywhere you go next year. Mashable

Windows 7 users are officially dropping like flies – For the first time in a long time, Windows 7 is now being run by less than half of PC users. Only 43.12% still use the eight-year-old operating system, reports TechRadar. Mashable

Every 2018 iPhone model could get a battery boost thanks to this new tech – Hands up who wants more battery life from their smartphone? The good news is that noted mobile analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, of KGI Securities fame, reckons that all three of the 2018 iPhones are going to get a boost in capacity across the board, thanks partly to a new L-shaped battery design. Techradar


Daily Journal – Jun 28, 2017

This is my 88th journal.

For a moment there, I didn’t quite know how I want to start. My personal life has gotten pretty boring in my view as of late. So maybe let me just share some thoughts instead and see how it goes.

There are two kinds of content which I feel need to be improved on, which are necessary to improve readership. On a personal level, I prefer textual stuff. It allows my imagination to run wild. Art works and drawings kind of take that away because you are seeing what the artist want you to see. Get my drift? Though I got to admit that graphical stuff are important when you want to explain a concept or idea.

Sorry about the digression.

So, the first kind of content involves my own daily journal. After all, this my personal blog. I know I need to increase the number of graphical or video-based content instead of textual content. But I think in order to do that, I would need to take more pictures, maybe even take videos. A friend of mine invited me to a musical/performance event. I’m still trying to decide if I want to go or not. Get out of my comfort zone again??? That might be a good chance to practice my photography skills and get some content for this.

Another kind of content is those involving teaching. I mean I have a stronger background in programming, software development and design compare to other skills which I am currently exploring and attempting to learn, namely drawing, cooking, and copywriting. So I suppose I should start doing more content on those.

Anyway, I just want to add that writing a daily journal is about establishing some kind of discipline and routine. Even if just writing a single line saying, “I’m busy”, is as important as writing a multi-paragraph entry.

But these days, I suppose youngsters don’t read. They prefer cat pictures.

Now now, just like that, I have multi-paragraphs and I mentioned that I wasn’t sure how to start in my first paragraph.

For work today, I went to the customer office and conducted SIT. Spent the whole day there. Had lunch by myself, which I usually do on weekends anyway. Though it can be quite a sad thing.

Something of note is that my boss removed me from many of the slack channels that I was on. Kind of a relief in a way. That means that I didn’t need to care so much anymore. I can devote more brain power to other stuff and just do whatever task that’s left.

Remember yesterday I mentioned that I signed up for a drawing course? I forgot to include the link to what I was talking about. So here it is.

The drawing course by Rich Graysonn. I came across it through the Singapore’s SkillsFuture platform where you can sign up for courses to upgrade yourself. It was an initiative by the Singapore government so that Singaporeans are ready to take on the future work.

In my personal opinion, it is a good attempt but in light of a world that will be highly driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI), whatever skills Singaporeans in general will acquire will fall short.

My questions to Singaporeans and the government are very simple: What problem will there be that an extremely advanced AI or robotics can’t solve? What do Singaporeans in general have to offer that people from nations where they are leaders in AI and Robotics don’t have?

The world order will change. United States and China will be the leaders in AI. Their economies will be increasingly driven by that.

In my opinion, seeing how small Singapore is, the lack of local specialists, and that the people here are all about “management”, “outsourcing”, and our population is falling due to low birth-rate, I doubt we can even survive. Smart-nation probably can free up some human resource to do “intelligent” work but there just isn’t enough of us (locals).

Here I conclude my journal for today.