Exciting News: Google Launches ‘Your News Update’

The Google product we’ve been working on in the two years since the 60dB acquisition launched this week. I’m so proud to be a part of this important step forward in the future of radio. For more information, check out our Google blog post.

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Podcasting and digital audio are booming, but in many ways the audio web is like the text web of the 1990s. When newspapers first came online, their early sites were hard to navigate and search, didn’t link stories together and often published stories on the web after they went to print. Audio is similar today. It’s an evocative, powerful, massively popular and convenient medium—but because the digital experience has lagged, it’s difficult to find things, especially timely, relevant stories that are meaningful to you. 

At Google, we saw an opportunity to help move digital audio forward by focusing on audio news. By analyzing what’s being said within a given audio file, we can apply our understanding around what text articles are about, how news stories evolve, how topics link together and what might be most relevant to a particular user’s interests.

Today, we’re introducing Your News Update, a smarter way to listen to the news hosted by the Google Assistant. You can try it today by updating your Assistant news settings.

 

Your News Update settings

When you say, “Hey Google, play me the news” on any Assistant-enabled phone or smart speaker, Your News Update will begin with a mix of short news stories chosen in that moment based on your interests, location, user history and preferences, as well as the top news stories out there.

If you’re a Steelers fan who follows the stock market and lives in Chicago, for example, you might hear a story about the latest “L” construction, an analysis of last Thursday’s Steelers game and a market update, in addition to the latest national headlines. Keep listening and the experience will extend into longer-form content that dives deeper on your interests. In between stories, the Google Assistant serves as your smart news host that introduces which publishers and updates are next.

In 2016, we launched our initial News on Assistant product, with news briefings from top publishers. In 2018, we enhanced this functionality with the ability to get spoken responses to news queries on your Google Home—like “Hey Google, what’s the latest news about Brexit?” Your News Update expands on that work by creating an experience that’s fresher and more tailored to you.

Collaborations with publishers from around the world over nearly two years have helped us imagine the future of audio news, and have reinforced the importance of building a healthy ecosystem for both listeners and publishers. And of course, the high-quality stories our partners provide are critical to creating a comprehensive yet intimate news experience for listeners. 

Partners for Your News Update

Your News Update is now available in English in the United States, and will expand internationally next year. You can find Your News Update in Assistant settings: Under the You tab, navigate to News and switch your News playlist format. Then say “Hey Google, play me the news” or add news to one of your Assistant Routines.”

Check out what other people had to say about our exciting launch:

USA Today: Google debuts personalized news feed

Fast Company: After conquering print, Google News is invading audio

Fortune: Google Partners With Media Outlets to Launch a News Update Audio Service for Assistant

The Verge: Google is putting an algorithmic audio news feed on its Assistant

TechCrunch:  Google Assistant introduces personalized playlists of audio news

Search Engine Land: Google brings audio news aggregation to smart speakers, phones

CNET: Google partners with publishers to bring audio news feeds to the Assistant

Venturebeat: Google Assistant will prioritize briefs over longform audio news

Android Authority: Google Assistant audio news clips will be better catered to you

9to5Google: Google Assistant launching personalized audio news feed w/ shorter stories & updates

Thurrot.com: Google Assistant is Getting AI-Powered Audio News

Radio and Internet News: Google Assistant launches personalized news stream

Seeking Alpha: Google Assistant launches personalized news playlists

Engadget: Google Assistant’s latest feature is a personalized audio news feed

Android Central: Google’s Assistant can now present you a curated selection of audio news

Slashgear: Google Assistant gets personalized audio news feed feature

AllAccessMusicGroup: Google Launches ‘Your News Update’ Briefing For Google Assistant

 

What a ride! And it’s only the beginning. Stay tuned.

A colony of feral parakeets has invaded London

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Get the full story on PRI’s The World.

London is at the center of a very loud mystery. A colony of feral parakeets has taken over the British capital. Nobody knows how the small, green birds originating from South Asia and Central Africa came to be in the capital city. While some Londoners consider the foreign birds to be a threat to native birds, others have adopted the colorful parakeet as an unofficial city mascot.

Parakeets are a type of small parrot that is frequently kept as a pet by people all over the world. But in London, if you want to play with a parakeet, you can skip the pet store and go straight to a park.

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Since moving to London from Australia, Alysia Micali feeds the parakeets in Hyde Park every week. “I love birds, and I think it’s just really awesome to hang out with them and feed them,” Micali said. “It’s just fun to do in the city that you don’t find anywhere else and they’re wild, so they’re not in a cage or anything.” Micali warns that the birds can get a little bit aggressive if you run out of food.

After living in London for nine years, writer Nick Hunt realized that the number of parakeets was rapidly multiplying. At the last official roost count in 2012, researchers counted over 32,000 feral parakeets living in London.

Hunt teamed up with photographer Tim Mitchell on a book called “The Parakeeting of London: An Adventure in Gonzo Ornithology.”

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Hunt and Mitchell first set out to debunk some of the urban legends about how the parrots first came to London, like the story that musician Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair on Carnaby Street after a wild night in the 1960s. “Nobody seems to have known him to keep parakeets,” Hunt said. “I think one of the reasons this myth is so potent is that they can have a kind of Jimi Hendrix quality, they’re kind of bright, garishly dressed and they have a harsh kind of grating sound that hasn’t really been heard in the city before.”

Another urban legend states that the parakeets were released on the set of the film “The African Queen” in 1950. Mitchell thinks that’s bogus. “We’ve fastidiously watched that film and there’s not a single parakeet in it,” he said.

The true origin story is significantly less dramatic. The social birds probably escaped from Victorian aviaries and adapted to city life. That has happened in many other places around the world, like Brussels and San Francisco.

“Geographically, they have a very broad range,” Mitchell said. “And we have loads and loads of trees in the cities in this country.”

Pubs, rugby clubs and even a local beer company have adopted the feral parakeet as a London mascot, but some Londoners see the loud birds as an invasive species. “People who don’t like them say they’re a threat to native British birds,” Hunt said.

The rapidly multiplying parakeets compete with smaller birds for resources like nests and food, and they’re a nuisance to local food crops. However, the British government has decided they’re not a big enough threat to cull the flock.

Hunt and Mitchell believe human activity is a bigger threat to the native bird population than the introduction of foreign parakeets. “The reason why I think kingfishers and woodpeckers are in decline isn’t because of a few tens of thousands of parakeets,” Hunt said. “It’s habitat loss, climate change and pollution.”

London’s parakeets also benefit from the warming climate. In the last 20 years, London has seen 19 of the warmest winters on record. “We got into some interesting thoughts and conversations about the meaning of what is native,” Hunt said. “Does it even make sense in an age where climate is shifting to have this idea of native?”

No matter how they originally came to London, feral parakeets are likely here to stay and to squawk, proving it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you thrive.

Wimbledon, Steeped In Tradition, Embraces Artificial Intelligence

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Get the full story on NPR.

Match highlights at Wimbledon are selected and assembled by robots. Artificial intelligence is used to pick the most dramatic moments, making those judgments by crowd noise and player gestures.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Wimbledon is in its second week, a tennis tournament steeped in tradition and also embracing artificial intelligence. We should note that a company that makes AI, IBM, is a financial supporter of NPR on our way to letting you know that Wimbledon is using AI to produce highlights of the most exciting moments much more quickly than a human producer. But how does a computer program know what makes for good tennis? At Wimbledon, Brenda Salinas explains.

BRENDA SALINAS, BYLINE: Fans from all over the world are gathered around 18 grass tennis courts cheering on their favorite players.

(CHEERING)

SALINAS: In this match, Russian Daniil Medvedev faces off against the Italian Paolo Lorenzi.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Twenty, 15.

SALINAS: But I’m not watching the tennis drinking a traditional Pimm’s cocktail. I’m in a basement where engineers use that very sound you’re hearing to power an artificially intelligent program.

ALEXANDRA WILLIS: We are in the room affectionately known as The Bunker.

SALINAS: Alexandra Willis heads up digital marketing at Wimbledon. She shows me the IBM dashboard that can automatically determine what parts of a tennis match are the most exciting for fans to watch. Every match is automatically clipped and ranked according to three categories.

WILLIS: The first is the noise of the crowd. So how they react to that particular point.

SALINAS: The computer program knows what point in the match it is.

WILLIS: So was it break point? Was it an ace? What kind of point was it?

SALINAS: And lastly, the tricky bit, what emotions the human tennis player is feeling.

WILLIS: So are they fist pumping? Are they actually looking in complete despair?

SALINAS: That’s right, the computer can tell whether a tennis player is celebrating or wincing in despair.

WILLIS: For a while, player gestures, it was picking up this movement – wiping your face – and thinking, is that some kind of celebration? Actually, it was the player saying, I want my towel. So that’s the whole beauty of this, is that we have to test it and learn it constantly.

SALINAS: Wimbledon has been using this technology for three years, but this year, it says it’s smarter than ever. The highlight reels get distributed all over Wimbledon’s digital properties, including on the Jumbotrons and its YouTube channel. IBM engineer Dave Provan shows me how it works.

DAVE PROVAN: Good crowd reaction on the volley. Looks like a set point. So the highlight will automatically do the set points, match points and other points like that.

SALINAS: The polished highlights reel comes together just two minutes after a match has ended. That’s about nine times faster than a human video editor. Plus the program can analyze matches across 18 courts. No human can do that.

So did this just come to you like this?

PROVAN: Yeah. It comes fully edited like this together.

SALINAS: No human input at all?

PROVAN: There’s human review to make sure that it looks good, but yeah, it’s basically an automatic system.

SALINAS: Tennis always follows the same structure, but the story of every match is different. That’s why Courtney Nguyen is skeptical that robots can capture the most important parts of the game.

COURTNEY NGUYEN: Yeah. That’s nuts. (Laughter).

SALINAS: Nguyen hosts a podcast for the Women’s Tennis Association where she analyzes the texture of the game.

NGUYEN: I think that when you’re actually cutting a highlight package that tells the true story of the match, there could be, you know, in oftentimes, in those situations, something very different happening that maybe even a crowd completely misses, or even a player doesn’t even notice is happening, could turn a match.

SALINAS: Computer programs are sophisticated enough to capture the emotions of a crowd or on a player’s face, but they’re not smart enough to capture the tiny moments that can make a match. At least, not yet.

(APPLAUSE)

SALINAS: At Wimbledon, I’m Brenda Salinas.

West, Texas Reacts to Shocking News

Get the story on KERA.

The people of West had spent three years coming to grips with the fertilizer plant blast that killed 15 and leveled part of the small Texas town. Then came Wednesday, when Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent Robert Elder said the agency is investigating the incident as a crime.

 

Organizing Domestic Workers

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Get the full story from Latino USA.

This year, California passed a Bill of Rights protecting domestic workers. New York and Hawaii have passed similar bills. But what is going on in the other 47 states? Andrea Cristina Mercado is the campaign director for the National Domestic Worker Alliance. She joins host Maria Hinojosa to talk about how the legacy of slavery makes it difficult for domestic workers to organize and how despite obstacles, the domestic worker movement has grown.

Photo courtesy of Dignidad Rebelde. 

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Photo courtesy of National Domestic Workers Association.

Andrea Cristina Mercado is the daughter of South American immigrants, the mother of two small girls, and the new Campaign Director at the National Domestic Worker Alliance. For the past eight years Andrea has been organizing at Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), a grassroots Latina immigrant women’s organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is one of the co-founders of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and has played a leadership role in building and coordinating the California Domestic Worker Coalition, a statewide effort to include domestic workers in labor laws.

Microsoft VP Is For Immigration Reform

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Get the full story from Latino USA.

It’s not just Latinos who are hoping the government shutdown ends and Congress can get back to work on immigration reform. The business community, and in particular the tech sector, wants to see legislation too. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel and executive vice president, talks with Maria Hinojosa about why he cares about immigration reform. He discusses how essential immigrant workers are for the tech sector, and the American economy as a whole.

Rice Students Make A Better Cup Of Space Coffee

Get the full story at KUHF

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When Astronauts drink coffee in space, it’s hardly a gourmet experience. Like all liquids aboard the International Space Station, coffee comes freeze dried in an aluminum pouch. Astronauts rehydrate the pouch with hot water from a dispenser and drink through a leak-proof straw. The problem is that they can’t add anything to it because it might leak and damage the equipment. For now, there are just four ways astronauts can have their premixed coffee: black, with lots of sugar, lots of cream, or lots of both.

That’s how the Texas Space Grant Consortium described the problem to Rice students Robert Johnson, Benjamin Young and Colin Shaw in their Intro to Engineering class.

From the start, they started imagining what it would feel like for their design to go into space. This is Shaw:

“I think in first grade when I assembled all of the Jupiter and all of its moons. I thought being an Astronaut would be pretty cool. Since then I have toned down my dreams a little bit to just send stuff to the ISS.”

Throughout the year, Shaw’s team developed a system using aluminum pouches and a 3D printed roller to help Astronauts customize their coffee.

They had to develop a way to pour exact amounts of cream and sugar into coffee without the use of gravity. They started by putting creamer and sugar into aluminum pouches. They adapted NASA’s leak-proof straws to link the pouches together. Then they designed a special roller to push the condiments out of the bag. It looks like those plastic gadgets used to squeeze the last drops of toothpaste out of a tube.  The execution? It’s pretty easy.

First you add hot water to the coffee pouch. And then…

“I connect the pouch to pouch adapter from the coffee pouch to the sugar pouch. I unclip the clamp and start proportioning my sugar.”

A few cranks of the roller and the sugar is pushed into the coffee through the special straw. The lines on the pouch tell you exactly how much is going in. Same with the non-dairy creamer.

“I mix it around a little bit, unclip the clamp, and drink.”

Compared to the condiment bar at Starbucks, it might seem complicated, but the students say it’s a small sacrifice for the ability to make a perfectly blended drink. They hope that with more testing their invention will be ready to go up to the International Space Station.

NASA has told them that it might have other uses, like any time a precise amount of liquid has to be dispensed without the help of gravity, for example with IVs.

Alley Theater Announces $73 Million Renovation To ‘Ensure The Theatre’s Future’

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Get the full story at KUHF

The Alley Theater in downtown Houston is one of the city’s most significant landmarks, its opening in 1968 was a nationally chronicled event. Forthcoming renovations will only bring a deep cleaning to the building’s façade. The inside, however, will be almost unrecognizable.

The plans include a reconstructed lobby and a complete renovation of the theatre’s largest stage.

Gregory Boyd is the Alley Theater’s artistic director. He says the stage was constructed at a time when minimalist productions were in fashion, and that this has limited their more modern stagings.

“The building hasn’t been renovated since 1968, so theater technology has taken leaps and bounds in that time, obviously, so we want to make the alley more friendly to modern means of production, but we also want to make more intimate the relationship between the actor and the audience.”

The remodeling will come at the end of a $73 million dollar capital campaign, of which $31 million has already been pledged. The reconstruction will also bring more educational and event spacing and significant green energy upgrades.

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Go Texan Day is an annual Houston tradition celebrating the start of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Houstonians are encouraged to don their cowboy hats, belt buckles and boots in a nod to Texan history. No, we don’t usually dress like this!