Here comes Mycroft. AI is now very real

Who doesn’t need an alarm clock to wake you up? To turn on the coffee machine so that your steaming fixer-upper is ready when you walk out of the bedroom? To play your favourite song on the radio just to create the right mood? To lock up after you? Water the garden? Some people call this ‘getting a spouse’. But even that has conditions!


Now, there is an even better option. Mycroft: the super intelligent, just-as-you-imagined robot that comes with an on-off switch.


Like other voice-activated gadgets, Mycroft listens for its name (or any catchphrase) by processing audio locally on the device. When it hears a command, it sends the recording off to be processed by cloud services, where it is transcribed and translated into a series of actions — which could include retrieving information from a search engine or social media site, opening an intercom channel to another Mycroft device, giving commands to other home automation products, or just about anything else that can be accomplished via the Internet.


The device looks like a slightly humanised alarm clock. Using open, lightweight hardware keeps costs down, with the idea that homeowners should be able to afford to put a Mycroft in most rooms of the house. That way it can act as both an intercom and a Wi-Fi-connected ubiquitous computing system.


Built around a Raspberry Pi 2 running the Snappy Ubuntu Core operating system, plus an Arduino-controlled LED display, Mycroft is eminently open, accessible, hackable and extendable.


Along with releasing the entire source code (once it’s production-ready), the Mycroft team will provide APIs and software development kits so that anyone and everyone can add new capabilities and integrations with other smart products and services. The hardware is also extendable, as the case design exposes connectors for both the Raspberry Pi and the display controller.


The team’s desire to open Mycroft up to the global developer community isn’t just about democratising voice-recognition technology; it’s also part of a vision for developing a robust artificial intelligence. In fact, the name “Mycroft” is homage to a computer in a Robert Heinlein novel that gradually becomes self-aware as it is connected to more and more devices and networks. Similarly, the developers of this real-world Mycroft hope that the communal effort of piecemeal extensions to the hardware and software will add up to more than a very convenient listening machine — that, eventually, a sense of human-like intelligence will emerge that will make Mycroft greater than the sum of its parts.


Much like Siri, Google Now, Cortana and Echo, Mycroft uses the power of the cloud to process natural speech, determine user intent and respond seamlessly. Mycroft is always listening. When you call him, he responds. Otherwise he ignores you so your conversations are confidential. Mycroft respects your privacy.


Imagine that! Technology is getting very, very personal.

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