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Google Cloud lets businesses create their own text-to-speech voices

Google launched a few updates to its Contact Center AI product today, but the most interesting one is probably the beta of its new Custom Voice service, which will let brands create their own text-to-speech voices to best represent their own brands.

Maybe your company has a well-known spokesperson for example, but it would be pretty arduous to have them record every sentence in an automated response system or bring them back to the studio whenever you launch a new product or procedure. With Custom Voice, businesses can bring in their voice talent to the studio and have them record a script provided by Google. The company will then take those recordings and train its speech models based on them.

As of now, this seems to be a somewhat manual task on Google’s side. Training and evaluating the model will take “several weeks,” the company says and Google itself will conduct its own tests of the trained model before sending it back to the business that commissioned the model. After that, the business must follow Google’s own testing process to evaluate the results and sign off on it.

For now, these custom voices are still in beta and only American English is supported so far.

It’s also worth noting that Google’s review process is meant to ensure that the result is aligned with its internal AI Principles, which it released back in 2018.

Like with similar projects, I would expect that this lengthy process of creating custom voices for these contact center solutions will become mainstream quickly. While it will just be a gimmick for some brands (remember those custom voices for stand-alone GPS systems back in the day?), it will allow the more forward-thinking brands to distinguish their own contact center experiences from those of the competition. Nobody likes calling customer support, but a more thoughtful experience that doesn’t make you think you’re talking to a random phone tree may just help alleviate some of the stress at least.

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Decrypted: How a teenager hacked Twitter, Garmin’s ransomware aftermath

A 17-year-old Florida teenager is accused of perpetrating one of the year’s biggest and most high-profile hacks: Twitter.

A federal 30-count indictment filed in Tampa said Graham Ivan Clark used a phone spearphishing attack to pivot through multiple layers of Twitter’s security and bypassed its two-factor authentication to gain access to an internal “admin” tool that let the hacker take over any account. With two accomplices named in a separate federal indictment, Clark — who went by the online handle “Kirk” — allegedly used the tool to hijack the accounts of dozens of celebrities and public figures, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and former president Barack Obama, to post a cryptocurrency scam netting over $100,000 in bitcoin in just a few hours.

It was, by all accounts, a sophisticated attack that required technical skills and an ability to trick and deceive to pull off the scam. Some security professionals were impressed, comparing the attack to one that had the finesse and professionalism of a well-resourced nation-state attacker.

But a profile in The New York Times describes Clark was an “adept scammer with an explosive temper.”

In the teenager’s defense, the attack could have been much worse. Instead of pushing a scam that promised to “double your money,” Clark and his compatriots could have wreaked havoc. In 2013, hackers hijacked the Associated Press’ Twitter account and tweeted a fake bomb attack on the White House, sending the markets plummeting — only to quickly recover after the all-clear was given.

But with control of some of the world’s most popular Twitter accounts, Clark was for a few hours in July one of the most powerful people in the world. If found guilty, the teenager could spend his better years behind bars.

Here’s more from the past week.


THE BIG PICTURE

Garmin hobbles back after ransomware attack, but questions remain

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Google reportedly cancelled a cloud project meant for countries including China

After reportedly spending a year and a half working on a cloud service meant for China and other countries, Google cancelled the project, called “Isolated Region,” in May due partly to geopolitical and pandemic-related concerns. Bloomberg reports that Isolated Region, shut down in May, would have enabled it to offer cloud services in countries that want to keep and control data within their borders.

According to two Google employees who spoke to Bloomberg, the project was part of a larger initiative called “Sharded Google” to create data and processing infrastructure that is completely separate from the rest of the company’s network. Isolated Region began in early 2018 in response to Chinese regulations that mean foreign tech companies that want to enter the country need to form a joint venture with a local company that would hold control over user data. Isolated Region was meant to help meet requirements like this in China and other countries, while also addressing U.S. national security concerns.

Bloomberg’s sources said the project was paused in China in January 2019, and focus was redirected to Europe, the Middle East and Africa instead, before Isolated Region was ultimately cancelled in May, though Google has since considered offering a smaller version of Google Cloud Platform in China.

After the story was first published, a Google representative told Bloomberg that Isolated Region wasn’t shut down because of geopolitical issues or the pandemic, and that the company “does not offer and has not offered cloud platform services inside China.”

Instead, she said Isolated Region was cancelled because “other approaches we were actively pursuing offered better outcomes. We have a comprehensive approach to addressing these requirements that covers the governance of data, operational practices and survivability of software. Isolated Region was just one of the paths we explored to address these requirements.”

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, broke out Google Cloud as its own line item for the first time in its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings report, released in February. It revealed that its run rate grew 53.6% during the last year to just over $10 billion in 2019, making it a more formidable rival to competitors Amazon and Microsoft.

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Couchbase launches a fully managed database service

Couchbase, the popular NoSQL database, today announced the launch of Couchbase Cloud, a fully managed database-as-a-service (DBaaS) offering for enterprises. Once the service is generally available later this summer, users will be able to spin it up on AWS and Microsoft Azure, with support for Google Cloud coming a bit later this year. This, the company claims, makes it the first “SQL-on-NoSQL DBaaS that supports multiple cloud providers.”

What’s probably more important for its customers, though, is that Couchbase Cloud will allow them to retain full control of their data inside their own Virtual Private Cloud. Couchbase promises that deploying the service only takes a few clicks and, as you would expect from a fully managed service, the company will handle managing and upgrading the database service.

The underlying infrastructure stack uses open-source technologies like Kubernetes, Prometheus and Grafana, but as a fully managed service, that’s not something the users will actually have to worry about all that much. Indeed, Couchbase stresses how its service decouples the underlying infrastructure from its database solution. That includes pricing. Couchbase doesn’t charge its users for the infrastructure they consume. Instead, they’ll continue to pay their cloud provider as usual, which also means they can take advantage of cost savings from reserved instances and other discounts that the various cloud providers make available to their customers. The Couchbase Cloud service itself offers multiple pricing options, including hourly and volume-based pricing.

Traditionally, Couchbase’s focus was on its server and mobile offerings. Adding a fully managed service to this line-up makes a lot of sense, though, as not every company has the expertise to manage its database servers itself.

Source: TechCrunch

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Alphabet earnings show Google Cloud on $10B run rate

Today after the bell, Alphabet reported its fourth-quarter and full-year financial results. The company’s revenue grew from $39.3 billion in 2018 to $46.1 billion in 2019. The firm’s net income also expanded from $8.9 billion to $10.7 billion over the same time frame.

The figures, when compared to expectations, were mixed. Alphabet beat analyst estimates on profit, but missed on revenue. Shares of the company are off around 4% in after-hours trading, following its disclosure.

Why do we care?

The company’s reported Q4 and full-year 2019 results are notable for several reasons. First, Alphabet broke out the value of YouTube’s advertising empire. And, the company disclosed discrete “Google Cloud” revenues. Both are new.

YouTube’s advertising heft was made clear today, with the video platform bringing in $15.1 billion in 2019 revenue, up from $11.2 billion in 2018.

The firm’s new “Google Cloud” line item appears to include all of the company’s cloud computing efforts. YouTube’s advertising haul will grab the most headlines, but the cloud revenue figure is what we’d like to drill into.

Cloud, Google-style

Google announced an impressive $2.6 billion round for all cloud revenue, which includes G Suite, the enterprise version of GMail/Docs/Drive/Hangouts and Google’s cloud infrastructure revenue. At $2.61 billion, that puts it on a run rate over $10 billion. In the year-ago Q4, the company’s Cloud revenue came to just $1.71 billion, a run rate of $6.84 billion.

Google’s Cloud run-rate, then, grew by 53.6% in the last year.

In February of 2018, then-Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene was happy to report $1 billion quarterly revenue for the group. Last July, the company’s Cloud revenue crossed $2 billion for that quarter, putting on an $8 billion run rate, double the previous report.

Former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian took over after Greene stepped down last year, and he brought on a number of industry veterans from Oracle and SAP to help sell Google Cloud to the enterprise. So far the results are certainly encouraging in a short amount of time.

In comparison

While Google is making some gains in the cloud, its chief competitors have been doing well at the same time.

To pick one example, Amazon’s cloud revenue totaled just under $10 billion in the same calendar quarter. In a direct comparison, Google is far smaller, but the search giant is working to make up ground and the results appear encouraging. It’s worth noting that Amazon’s comparable cloud figures are more focused on infrastructure than Google’s, which includes SaaS revenue, as well.

Turning to Microsoft, it reported a combined cloud revenue, which includes SaaS (Office 365, Dynamics, etc.) and cloud computing (Azure), of $12.5 billion for the quarter. All of this shows that while Google still has a long way to grow to match its rivals for scale, it’s at least picking up the pace.

Source: TechCrunch