Amazon’s kid-savvy Alexa a welcome new option for Echo speakers

Amazon is adapting its Alexa technology so that Echo smart speakers will switch to kid-friendly mode when they detect children are speaking to them.`

Echo Dot Kids Edition panda version. Amazon

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Echo Dot Kids Edition panda version. Amazon

Given how far these digital devices reach into our lives, that’s welcome news.

Echo devices reach deeply into our existence. We use them to get answers to questions, control lights and play music. Our kids see us using them, and kids mimic their parents. So in coming months, Amazon will give parents the option of setting up voice profiles for their children in order to produce kid-friendly responses, the giant retailer said at its device product launch event Thursday.

Echo Dot Kids Edition panda version

© Amazon

Echo Dot Kids Edition panda version

Once voice profiles are set up, the Alexa device will return kid-friendly answers, games, music, Audible books and premium skills, for example. The feature dovetails with the new $60 Echo Dot Kids Edition, a smart speaker with panda or tiger color-scheme options, but it’ll work with other Alexa devices, too.


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It’s a significant step forward for parents, like myself, who want their children to benefit from new technology but are worried by its many problems. Building a system to handle kids differently is important for safety, privacy and mental health.

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There’s no doubt about it: New technology offers children a lot. Connected devices let them tap into educational resources, satisfy their curiosity and stay in contact with friends and family. That last ability is particularly welcome while COVID-19 keeps them at home. 

What we don’t want is technology that exposes kids to the vast range of inappropriate content that fills parts of the web. We also don’t want them hooked on services, like video games or social media sites, that can

Microsoft releases new technology to combat manipulated media

Microsoft on Tuesday rolled out two new technologies aimed at identifying and combatting the influence of manipulated media.

One, the Microsoft Video Authenticator, can analyze photos and videos and give a percentage chance that they have been artificially changed, the company said in a blog post.

The other includes technology helping creators add digital hashes and certificates to content made in Microsoft as well as a reader that can check those hashes and certificates.

Ideally, those two pieces would help users know the creator of content and be able to verify it has not been changed.

Microsoft also announced Tuesday that it is partnering with the nonprofit AI Foundation to make the new video authentication software available to news outlets and political campaigns.

The software company is also partnering with the BCC, CBC and The New York Times on a new project to test its authentication technology.

Lawmakers and experts have raised alarms about the emergence of manipulated media, especially when forged using artificial intelligence and machine learning, as a tool for spreading political misinformation.

The technology has not advanced far enough for forged videos to be indistinguishable from real ones, but even imperfect edits can be damaging.

Simpler edits — like the slowing down or selective cropping — are also being deployed by political campaigns to score points on social media.

Theoretically, wider use of digital hashes could address those fakes.

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