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Google Assistant is getting AI capabilities with Bard

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Google Assistant is getting an AI-powered update. At today’s Made by Google live event, the company introduced Assistant with Bard, a new version of its popular mobile personal assistant that’s now powered by generative AI technologies. Essentially a combination of Google Assistant and Bard for mobile devices, the new assistant will be able to handle a broader range of questions and tasks, ranging from simple requests like “what’s the weather?,” “set an alarm,” or “text Jenny,” as before, to now more intelligent responses provided by Google’s Bard AI.

This includes being able to dive into your own Google apps, like Gmail and Google Drive, to offer personalized responses to queries on an opt-in basis. That means you could do things like ask Google Assistant questions like “catch me up on my important emails I’ve missed this week,” and the digital helper can dig up emails you need to know about.

This feature builds on the update Bard released in mid-September, which allows the AI chatbot and ChatGPT rival the ability to integrate with Google’s own apps and services, including Gmail, Docs, Drive, Maps, YouTube, and Google Flights and hotels, through “Bard extensions.” Users who have already opted in to allow Bard to access their Gmail, Drive, and Docs won’t have to do so again when using the feature in Assistant, but those who haven’t yet tried extensions would need to give Bard permission before it could respond to those personal queries in the Assistant app.

In addition to finding things in your inbox, Google suggests the expanded capabilities could be used for personal tasks, like trip planning, creating a grocery list, or writing a caption for social media, for example. With the launch of the new experiment, Google aims to examine how people use Assistant with Bard before launching the functionality broadly to the general public across Android and iOS.

And because Bard is now on mobile devices, users can interact with it in a variety of ways.

“It can hear through the microphone. It can speak to you through voice output. It can see through your camera. And it can even take actions to help you out,” explains Sissie Hsiao, Vice President of Google Bard and Assistant, in an interview about the new functionality. “And of course it’s on the device that you have with you at all times which is your phone,” she says.

The exec positions the expansion as a major leap for the company’s digital assistant, which has before been limited to more basic tasks.

Image Credits: Google

“Google Assistant, over the past seven years, has been helping hundreds of millions of people get things done through natural and conversational methods. So things like setting alarms, asking for weather, or making quick calls using a simple ‘Hey, Google.’ And now with generative AI coming there’s new opportunities to deliver an even more intelligent, more personalized, more intuitive digital assistant. And we think it should extend beyond voice.”

In fact, users can interact with Google Assistant with Bard in three ways. They can ask it questions and follow-ups with their voice, type in their queries, or they can leverage the camera through Bard’s Google Lens integration. The latter allows users to take or upload pictures to accompany their queries.

Hsiao says people have been using this feature in a number of unique ways — like taking pictures of their clothes and shoes and asking Bard how to style them, taking pictures of apps and asking Bard to write the code scaffolding.

“We want Bard to be multimodal,” she explains. “It can see. It can hear. It can speak to you.”

In addition on Pixel devices and select Samsung phones, you can long-press on the power or home button, respectively, to bring up a pop-up, floating window that offers a conversational overlay on the page you’re viewing, allowing Bard to respond to what you’re seeing on the screen. For example, you could pull up Bard over a picture of a hotel and ask it if the hotel is available to book this weekend.

Image Credits: Google

With Bard’s integration into Google Assistant, it’s not limited in any way from the web version –which means it can now also double-check your answers if there’s concern about AI hallucinations — a problem modern AIs face as they construct incorrect answers based on false information. That feature was also rolled out in mid-September.

Google says Assistant with Bard will initially launch in a limited set of markets — and not only English-speaking ones. It hasn’t yet determined which markets or languages will be first to receive the update, however. In the coming months, it will roll out more broadly to iOS and Android mobile users before exploring the possibility of bringing the upgraded Assistant functionality to other platforms.

Read more about Google's 2023 Pixel Event on TechCrunch



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SpaceX Rocket Suffers Engine Failure In Starlink Mission, Elon Musk Shares What’ll Happen Next

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket suffered a rare failure on Friday. The launcher lifted off with 20 Starlink satellites at 8:06 am IST from California but failed to deploy them in the intended orbit.

According to SpaceX, the second stage of Falcon 9 did not complete its second burn necessary for reaching the desired orbit. The booster did its job and safely landed on the droneship in the Pacific Ocean. It was SpaceX‘s 70th mission this year.

Currently, the satellites are in a lower orbit than planned.

“SpaceX has made contact with 5 of the satellites so far and is attempting to have them raise orbit using their ion thrusters,” the company said in a statement on X.

ALSO SEE: Japan’s First Private Rocket Launch Ends In Massive Explosion, Video Goes Viral

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that it might not work “but it’s worth the shot. He also said that the satellites might fall toward Earth and burn up in the atmosphere if their thrusters are overpowered by the atmospheric drag.

In another post, Musk revealed that the upper stage engine exploded for unknown reasons while trying to raise the orbit. “Team is reviewing data tonight to understand root cause,” he said.

Notably, the reputed rocket by SpaceX has suffered only one full in-flight failure during a mission to the International Space Station in 2015.

ALSO SEE: Chinese Rocket Launches Accidentally, Crashes With Massive Explosion Seconds Later

(Image: SpaceX)





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China Plans To Destroy An Asteroid For Planetary Defense Mission By 2030: Report

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After the impeccable success of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, China is now planning to deflect an asteroid later this decade. According to The Planetary Society, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is preparing its first planetary defense test which is expected to launch by 2030.

Scientists have proposed the near-Earth asteroid 2015 XF261 as a candidate for the mission which will include two probes. One will ram into the space rock to deflect it and the second will conduct impact assessment.

The asteroid 2015 XF261 measures about 100 feet or 30 metres in diameter and it made a close flyby of our planet earlier this month. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the asteroid was about 50 million kilometres from our planet on July 9 and was travelling at a speed of around 42,000 kilometres per hour.

ALSO SEE: NASA Drills Freaky Scenario Where Elusive Asteroid Heads Towards Earth

Apart from China, Japan is also eyeing a ‘kinetic impact’ test mission to deflect an asteroid. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reportedly has plans to repurpose its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to collide with 1998 KY26. The probe which launched in 2014 is expected to rendezvous with the space rock in 2031 and potentially change its orbit.

The said missions by the two nations are driven by the success of NASA’s DART mission launched in 2021 which proved that smacking an asteroid can deflect them. It collided with Dimorphos which circles a larger rock Didymos in September 2022 and changed its orbit by about 32 minutes.

These missions are of immense importance as they enable technologies that could save Earth from a planet-killing asteroid. While predicting an impending asteroid armageddon is predictable, it is also the gravest threat that humanity faces.

ALSO SEE: Collision Of NASA’s DART With Asteroid Dimorphos Changed Its Shape; Finding Excites Scientists



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Uzbekistan mobile bank TBC raises $38.2M to expand its financial products

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Uzbekistan’s only mobile-exclusive bank, TBC Bank Uzbekistan, owned by London Stock Exchange-listed TBC Bank Group, has raised $38.2 million in a fresh equity investment. It plans to expand its local presence in the country and introduce new financial products as well.

TBC Bank Group has led the latest funding in TBC Bank Uzbekistan by infusing $23 million, while shareholders European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) have participated in the round by investing $7.6 million each.

After serving customers in Georgia, TBC Bank Group decided to expand outside that country’s borders in 2019 and found Uzbekistan as its first international market. The bank started its Uzbekistan operations in 2020 through a separate entity, TBC Group Uzbekistan, which launched the mobile-only bank after its debut, with no physical branches in the country. The plan was to leverage Uzbekistan’s increasing digitization effort and foresee business growth in the country, which has the biggest population after Russia and Ukraine in the region — the second-largest among all the Commonwealth of Independent States countries — and has upright economic and socio-demographics.

“Before TBC came in, there were no banking apps in Uzbekistan … Fast-forward four years, most of the banks have got a mobile app, but TBC is far ahead of the field,” said Oliver Hughes, head of international business at TBC Group, in an exclusive interview.

According to official data, Uzbekistan has a 70% smartphone penetration rate and a 77% internet penetration rate; 59% of its population of 37 million is under 30 years old, making it a viable market for a mobile-specific business.

TBC Bank Uzbekistan offers a mobile app through which customers can open bank accounts and access services, including cash loans and deposits. This omits the requirement of physically going to a bank branch to access banking.

Hughes told TechCrunch that a couple of years ago, customers in Uzbekistan typically had to visit their bank and stand in a queue to get any of their banking work done.

Alongside the mobile-only bank, TBC Group Uzbekistan owns Payme, the digital payments app for individual users and small businesses, as well as the Sharia-compliant credit business called Payme Nasiya. To broaden its coverage, it looks to integrate some experiences from these two businesses within the bank or sync them with the bank’s operations.

For instance, through its app, TBC Group Uzbekistan will offer tips, recommendations and user-generated content on local events, entertainment, concerts and travel to provide complementary services that are not strictly financially related. Some of these features will first arrive on the Payme app but will be available to the TBC Bank Uzbekistan customers over time.

Similarly, Payme Nasiya currently serves Uzbek customers with its point-of-sale and installment loans. To expand the credit business, it will introduce e-commerce and offline buy now, pay later. This is expected to attract more local businesses and eventually help the mobile bank gain more customers.

In addition to the new financial products in the pipeline, TBC Group Uzbekistan plans to bring AI experiences to its mobile bank. Hughes told TechCrunch the group has built a large language model predominantly using its customer dataset and is working on a voice assistant to deliver banking and financial services through a chatbot integrated within its app.

In the fall, TBC Bank Uzbekistan will use the fresh funding to add credit cards and an insurance product next year, Hughes said.

The bank’s roadmap includes additional services such as current accounts, as well as accounting, offline payments, e-commerce payments and lending specifically for small and medium enterprise customers, Hughes added.

“This investment will allow us to further capitalize on the immense opportunities in Uzbekistan, a fast-growing country with a population of over 37 million people where TBC UZ continues to leverage its growth momentum,” said Vakhtang Butskhrikidze, CEO of TBC Bank Group, in a prepared statement.

At the end of 2022, TBC Bank Uzbekistan broke even, and 2023 was the bank’s first full year of profit. As of March 2024, the bank had a user base of 4.8 million unique registered users. It also recorded monthly active users of 1.2 million in the first quarter of 2024.

Overall, TBC Group Uzbekistan, with a registered user base of 15 million users, reached profitability two years after launch and recorded 85% year-on-year revenue growth in the first quarter of this year. The company achieved gross loans of $296 million and deposits of $216 million through all three of its subsidiaries. Its net profit hit $23 million for the financial year 2023, most of which came from Payme. However, TBC did not disclose the mobile bank’s revenues or profits.

“TBC UZ’s impressive growth trajectory and innovative approach align with our mission to support sustainable economic development in the region,” said Andi Aranitasi, head of Uzbekistan, EBRD.

Hughes said that by the end of 2025, TBC Group Uzbekistan is projected to generate $75 million in net profit, most of which would come from TBC Bank Uzbekistan.

“We are encouraged with the progress TBC UZ has made so far and remain confident in its potential to contribute to economic growth and financial inclusion in Uzbekistan,” said Neil McKain, country manager, Uzbekistan, IFC.



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