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Ubi: The Wall Computer That Gives Your Home a Star Trek Vibe

Program your own voice commands to control the Internet of Things

3 min read
Ubi: The Wall Computer That Gives Your Home a Star Trek Vibe
By Your Command: You can program Ubi to respond to custom voice commands, which it can listen to from up to several meters away.
Photo: Unified Computer Intelligence Corp.

Ambient computing has been the stuff of science fiction for decades. On “Star Trek,” for example, the crew of the Enterprise could say “Computer” into the air, followed by a command. An intelligent system would reply and attempt to obey, whether it was turning on the lights or executing the self-destruct sequence. Now—at least when it comes to the lights—fiction has become fact.

Interest in using voice to control smart homes has taken off in recent months. In June of last year, Apple announced HomeKit, software that will eventually enable users to command connected devices using the Siri voice interface. Amazon has begun limited sales of its cylindrical US $200 Amazon Echo, which can do things like provide weather reports or play specified music on voice command. While the Echo doesn’t yet integrate with smart-home devices, I’ll eat my hat if that functionality isn’t added sometime in the next 12 to 18 months.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
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Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
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Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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