Apr 11, 2019

Amazon employees listen to Echo users' interactions to train Alexa

Dave Limp, senior vice president of Amazon devices, announces the Echo Dot in 2018. Photo: Grant Hindsley/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon employees listen to, transcribe and annotate Echo users' interactions with the smart speaker in order to "eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands," Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant, may "live in the cloud," according to Amazon's advertisements, but this work highlights the vital role humans still play in training software algorithms for smart devices — and how many users might be unaware of such work.

The big question: "[T]he recordings ... don’t provide a user's full name and address but are associated with an account number, as well as the user's first name and the device’s serial number," according to Bloomberg.

How it works: The recordings from Echo users' homes and offices are parsed by a team of contractors and full-time Amazon employees who review up to 1,000 audio clips per day, operating under non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from speaking publicly on the work.

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China tries to contain coronavirus, as Apple warns of earnings impact

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

As China pushes to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus — placing around 780 million people under travel restrictions, per CNN — the economic repercussions continue to be felt globally as companies like Apple warn of the impact from the lack of manufacturing and consumer demand in China.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 1,775 people and infected more than 70,000 others, mostly in mainland China. There are some signs that new cases are growing at a slower rate now, although the World Health Organization said Monday it's "too early to tell" if this will continue.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple issued a rare earnings warning on Monday, saying it would not meet quarterly revenue expectations due to the impact of the coronavirus, which will limit iPhone production and limit product demand in China.

Why it matters: Lots of companies rely on China for production, but unlike most U.S. tech companies, Apple also gets a significant chunk of its revenue from sales in China.

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The Trump administration wants to reboot federal executions, pointing to a 16-year lapse, but Pew Research reports the government has only executed three people since 1963.

The big picture: Nearly all executions in the U.S. are done by states. Even those have been steadily dropping for two decades, per the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) — marking a downward trend for all executions in the country.