Intuit expanded userbase with AI assistants and virtual human experts

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When it comes to filing taxes, some people prefer to handle it all by themselves. Other people prefer to let the experts take care of everything. For the people somewhere in the middle, Intuit has a service called TurboTax Live, which utilizes AI to match customers with experts who will help guide them through the process.

“There’s really room for the idea of ‘do it with me’ and … you need some help and you want some guidance,’” Marianna Tessel, Intuit chief technology officer, said during a session at VentureBeat’s Transform 2021 summit.

There is more to the service beyond matching customers to experts based on scheduling. Intuit also factors in hundreds of attributes to find the right expert to address each customer’s unique needs. This application of AI allows the service to match customers with the best expert on hand within minutes via chat or video call.

The result? Intuit’s user base has increased by 70% over the past year. Customer service wait times decreased by 15%. Additionally, Intuit anticipates its user base increasing by another 90% this year.

Growth through AI

In response to a question from VentureBeat CEO Matt Marshall on how much of their success can be attributed to AI, Tessel acknowledged that while there was “no question” that there was a boost from people working remotely due to the pandemic, Intuit believes that most of the growth has happened because of the high quality and intrinsic convenience of their service, bolstered by AI.

Intuit invests into AI in three distinct fields:

  1. Knowledge engineering, which helps codify tax compliance rules into code so computers can help customers understand what information is needed and what the next step is.
  2. Machine learning, used extensively to help matchmake customers with experts and to help personalize products based on customer data.
  3. Natural language processing, so AI that can listen to the spoken words of customers and read written words, such as information on a tax document.

Tessel says that using all these fields in combination is how their AI can read a tax document, identify what type of document it is, and figure out what to do with the information on it.

When asked about lessons learned, Tessel emphasized the positive impact of engineering hygiene, asking the right questions when the numbers don’t look great and conducting root cause analyses. She also emphasized that while the migration to the cloud was difficult, not having to worry about managing infrastructure was a big boost for the company.

For Intuit, AI “is a machine and human collaboration, a lot more than we expected,” Tessel said.


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Microsoft will end expanded ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ refund policy in July

Like many other retailers, Microsoft implemented an for Cyberpunk 2077 following its  in December. Those who bought the game from the Microsoft Store could claim a full refund. At the time, the company said the policy would be in place “until further notice.” That’s now changing.

In an update spotted by , Microsoft said Cyberpunk 2077 would fall under its standard digital refund policy starting on July 6th. That means any sale is , but you can from the company and it may grant your request in certain circumstances.

“The team at CD Projekt Red continues to work hard to improve the experience of Cyberpunk 2077 for Xbox players and has made a number of updates,” Microsoft says on a support page. “Given these updates, Microsoft will be returning to our standard digital game refund policy for Cyberpunk 2077 on July 6 for both new and existing purchases.”

The change of policy comes after Sony  on the PlayStation Store on Monday. Since the game came out, CD Projekt Red has released two major patches for Cyberpunk 2077 — though the base PS4 and Xbox One versions still suffer from some performance issues. Later this year, the studio will release a free Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 update for the title.

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Tech News

TikTok just expanded ways they can collect data on your face and voice

An update made to TikTok’s privacy policy this week made it technically legal to automatically collect data on you and your activities in the app. This update includes notes about biometric identifiers – like fingerprint scans and “voiceprints”. In the notes, TikTok suggests that they will seek “any required permissions” to get this data, but only “where required by law.”

As spotted by TechCrunch, in the latest version of the US privacy policy for TikTok, you’ll find changes to “Image and Audio Information”. See the Wayback Machine saved image of this change as of June 4, 2021. Scroll to “Information we collect automatically and compare to what was posted as of May 30, 2021.

Removed from this area is a sentence as follows: “We also link your subscriber information with your activity on our Platform across all your devices using your email, phone number, or similar information.” That could be good – maybe TikTok has decided to track users slightly less than they were before – or at least that’s what it looks like if this is the ONLY change you notice. The rest seems to move in the opposite direction.

An entire section was added under “Image and Audio Information.” There, TikTok adds a note that they may collect information “about the images and autio that are a part of your User Content.” TikTok notes that they may collect information by “identifying the objects and scenery that appear, the existence and location within an image of face and body features and attributes, the nature of the audio, and the text of the words spoken in your User Content.”

TikTok notes in their policy that this data may be collected to enable the following:
• Special video effects
• Content moderation
• Demographic classification
• Content recommendations
• Advertising recommendations
• Non-personally-identifying operations

As noted above, TikTok also added a note about how they may “collect biometric identifiers and biometric information.” This may include face-prints and voiceprints “from your User Content.”

They also added a more all-encompassing description of how they may collect information on the devices you use to access TikTok. Before, they included IP address, Unique device identifiers, model, mobile carrier, time zone, screen resolution, OS, app names, file names, file types, “keystroke patterns or rythms”, and platform.

Now, TikTok also includes user agent, network type, “identifiers for advertising purposes,” device IDs, battery state, audio settings, and connected audio devices. They’ve expanded their ability to collect information across devices, to make absolutely sure that if you log in to multiple devices, they will “be able to use your profile information to identify your activity across devices.”

TikTok can also now use “informatiuon collected from devices other than those you use to log-in to the Platform.” That effectively gives them the right to utilize audio that comes from devices connected to your smartphone – like connected microphones, smart speakers, and so forth.


Why should you care if TikTok is expanding the ways in which they can collect data based on your activities on your smartphone while using TikTok? If you knew that TikTok was just as guilty as any other social network of collection user data on you whenever you use the app, you probably won’t care about this newest update. If, however, you had the idea that TikTok was far more private than Facebook, Instagram, or other apps like them – now’s a good time to reconsider how you use the app and the network.

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Tech News

Night Sight fight expanded: The Pixel 4 is no match for the iPhone 11 in low light

We still have some more testing to go before we can reach a verdict on Google’s new Pixel 4 smartphone, but early results continue to show that it’s in for a big fight with the iPhone 11. We tested the improved Night Sight against the iPhone 11’s Night mode to see which camera could snap a better nighttime shot and the results are quite one-sided.

That’s very surprising. Apple’s Night Mode was largely seen as playing catch-up to Google’s version on the Pixel 3, and we all assumed that the Pixel 4 would take another leap to show Apple who’s boss. That might not be the case. In shot after shot, the iPhone 11 didn’t just turn extremely dark images into useable pics—it brightened the right spots, retained the right shadows, and simply handled the whole scene better than the Pixel 4. It’s subtle, but more often than not, the iPhone produced richer, more detailed shots without losing the natural darkness.

pixel 4 iphone 11 night sight 1 Michael Simon/IDG

Pixel 4 (left), iPhone 11 (right). Click to enlarge.

In the first test show, both cameras were able to illuminate the scene enough to see the whole building from a distance. However, Google blew out colors and lost much of the definition and shadows, while the iPhone 11 retained the integrity of the night and illuminated the parts that were shrouded in darkness.

pixel 4 iphone 11 night sight 3 Michael Simon/IDG

Pixel 4 (left), iPhone 11 (right). Click to enlarge.

In our next shot, Apple outperformed Google when it came to color accuracy. The redness of the door on the church, the darkness of the sky, and the hue of the taxi in the foreground are all better represented by the iPhone 11.

pixel 4 iphone 11 night sight 2 Michael Simon/IDG

Pixel 4 (left), iPhone 11 (right). Click to enlarge.

Both cameras performed impressively with this shot of an extremely dark apartment alley. The iPhone 11 gets a slight edge with the color of the ivy, bricks, and mulch, which all retained their deep hues and weren’t affected by the increased exposure.

pixel 4 iphone 11 night sight 4 Michael Simon/IDG

Pixel 4 (left), iPhone 11 (right). Click to enlarge.

This shot of four posters in a room was taken with the lights off. Both grabbed plenty of light, but you can plainly see how superior the iPhone 11’s version is, with both brighter and deeper colors, and better clarity and definition.

pixel 4 iphone 11 night 5 Michael Simon/IDG

Pixel 4 (left), iPhone 11 (right). Click to enlarge.

Once again, both cameras brightened the scene impressively but while the Pixel 4 (left) highlighted more of the spiderweb due to its overall brightening, the iPhone kept the moodiness and the creepiness of the scene without losing the spider or the leaves.

pixel 4 iphone 11 night 6 Michael Simon/IDG

Pixel 4 (left), iPhone 11 (right). Click to enlarge.

It’s hard to illustrate just how dark it was when I snapped this pic of these flowers, and both cameras performed incredibly well. But the iPhone 11 (right) edges the Pixel 4 once again with brighter colors, deeper greens on the grass, and a better handling of the reflections in the rain on the street.

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Tech News

Waymo announces expanded San Francisco testing program

One of the many companies working on getting autonomous automobiles on the roads in California is Waymo. The company has been testing autonomous cars in the San Francisco Bay Area since early 2009. That year, Waymo completed its first 1000 autonomous miles within the state.

Waymo says that it’s accelerating the development and testing of its technology in cities to allow it to eventually bring the benefits of fully autonomous driving to more people. Before it deploys a commercial service, the Waymo team will provide feedback on the product experience allowing the company to validate its progress.

Waymo says the key is to continue improving the rider experience inside its autonomous cars. Waymo has started limiting rider testing in San Francisco to Waymo employee volunteers to gather feedback and improve the technology. The company is also conducting testing using enhanced pandemic safety protocols to ensure the safety of all riders.

Waymo promises further details about how it’s optimizing its technology to tackle driving in San Francisco over the next few months. With Waymo testing in the San Francisco area for over a decade, it’s optimized its Waymo Driver’s 360-degree vision system and lidar to optimize the complexity of urban driving. Waymo cameras can spot traffic lights changing from a long distance, even on crowded streets.

The autonomous cameras are also able to spot jaywalkers running across the Street unexpectedly and react appropriately. Waymo also uses a perception system allowing the autonomous Driver to know how to handle a pedestrian while knowing how to handle trees and other obstacles. The perception system is flexible to changes on roads it’s already familiar with, such as during construction or other traffic incidents. The planning and routing system is able to automatically update the vehicle route and navigate the new layout.

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Google’s AI flood warnings now cover all of India and have expanded to Bangladesh

Google says its flood prediction service, which uses machine learning to identify areas of land prone to flooding and alert users before the waters arrive, now covers all of India and has expanded to parts of Bangladesh as well.

The search giant launched the tool in 2018 for India’s Patna region, but it says it’s been slowly increasing coverage in coordination with local government. In June, it hit the milestone of covering all the worst flood-hit areas of India. The company says this means some 200 million people in India and 40 million people in Bangladesh can now receive alerts from its flood forecasting system.

In addition to expanding coverage, Google is testing more accurate forecasts and has updated how its alerts appear on users’ devices. The company says it’s now sent over 30 million notifications to users with Android devices.

Google’s new flood alerts offer information in some areas about the depth of the waters.
Image: Google

Google has long been interested in providing warnings about natural disasters and national emergencies like floods, wildfires, and earthquakes. Many of these are handled through its Public Alerts program. Just last month, the company launched a new service that turns Android devices into a network of seismometers, leveraging the accelerometers inside phones and tablets to detect the vibrations from earthquakes and send alerts to users.

In the case of flood forecasting, though, Google isn’t using information from customers’ devices. Instead, it draws on a mix of historical and contemporary data about rainfall, river levels, and flood simulations, using machine learning to create new forecast models.

Google says it’s experimenting with new models that can provide even more accurate alerts. Its latest forecast model can “double the lead time” of its previous system, says the company, while also providing people with information about the depths of the flooding. “In more than 90 precent of cases, our forecasts will provide the correct water level within a margin of error of 15 centimeters,” say Google’s researchers.

A study of Google’s forecasts in the Ganges-Brahmaputra river basin carried out with scientists from Yale found that 70 percent of people who received a flood alert did so before flood waters arrived, and 65 percent of households that received an alert took action. “Even in an area suffering from low literacy, limited education, and high poverty, a majority of citizens act on information they receive,” write the researchers. “So, early warnings are definitely worth the effort.”

They noted that problems with using smartphone alerts still remained. The main issues are simply lack of access to smartphones and lack of trust regarding technological warnings. Survey respondents the researchers spoke to said they preferred to receive warnings from local leaders and that sharing them via loud speakers and phones calls was still desirable.

A photo from Yale researchers shows Google’s flood forecast service in use on the ground.
Image: Google

Google says it’s looking into these problems and has started a collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It hopes to share its flood forecasts with these organizations who can then disseminate the information through their own networks.

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