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The walls have ears: Samsung and Intel bet big on a startup that searches every word you say

The walls have ears: Samsung and Intel bet big on a startup that searches every word you say


A future where machines track our conversations to offer us advice and info

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mindmeld expect labs
mindmeld expect labs

Back in October of last year, The Verge wrote about the app MindMeld, a sort of Siri on steroids that could listen to an eight-person conversation and suggest information the speakers involved might want to see. Today Samsung, Intel, and Telefónica announced a strategic investment in Expect Labs, the company behind the technology, which the creators have dubbed "anticipatory computing."

"We're focused on building software that listens to what's happening in a room and delivers information to people before they know they need it," says Expect Labs CEO Tim Tuttle. "We're fortunate that some of the biggest companies in the world agree this is the future and have decided to partner with us."

But why are three very different kinds of companies — an electronics manufacturer, chip maker, and telecom giant — all so interested in this little startup? For Samsung, the maker of the Siri clone S Voice and a company with a reputation for stuffing as many disparate software features into its gadgets as it possibly can, the answer is obvious.

"Samsung imagines a world not too long from now where there is a flat-screen in every room. You might have a phone or tablet they built on you, but Samsung will also have a screen in your wall or on your refrigerator," says Tuttle. "They are interested in technology that can use voice commands as an input, that can listen to a conversation and provide answers without needing to be asked."

For Intel, the answer is a little more complex. The company has a new initiative called "perceptual computing," which focuses on the emergence of new computer inputs like voice and gesture. Intel wants to make sure that its chips and software development kits are the ones being used for this new wave of technology. "To develop a real competency in this area, Intel knows it's not about just chips, but also sophisticated AI software," says Tuttle.

For Telefónica, the fifth-largest mobile carrier in the world, it's about making a buck off the emergent movement towards contextual computing. "Voice recognition is finally getting good enough to layer services on top," says Tuttle. "So for Telefónica, they could be using software to listen to a conversation, totally anonymously of course, and provide you with contextual information, like Google Now. Except it will be Telefónica that can now find ways to monetize this info."

Users have responded well to apps like Google Now that trawl through personal data to provide useful info at the right time and place. Will they be as open to TV screens and telephones that listen in on every conversation and suggest that right recipe, state capital, or song title? Some of the biggest names in the tech world are betting the answer is yes.