A Voice Recognition App Adds Sound Effects While You Read to Your Kids

iStock
iStock

Technology is coming for kids’ story time, but maybe not in the way that you think. The future of bedtime stories, as MIT Technology Review describes it, won’t involve tablets or reading off screens, but it will have sound effects.

Novel Effect is an app that uses voice recognition to track the bedtime stories you’re reading to your kids and insert sound effects and music in response to certain cue words. It’s similar to a home assistant, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, except instead of playing music and setting kitchen timers for you, it’s on the ear-out for keywords contained in certain kids’ books.

Four mobile app screenshots side-by-side of the Novel Effect app.
Novel Effect

The app doesn’t work for all titles, but it offers effects for popular books you probably already own, like Where the Wild Things Are, The Hungry Caterpillar, and The Cat in the Hat. When you open the app on your phone, you select which book you plan to read. As you read the physical book out loud, the app listens for where you are in the text and adds sound effects, from dramatic music to monstrous roars.

It’s not going to trigger odd sound effects every time you say the word “caterpillar,” though. (Unlike the Amazon Echos that heard the words “Alexa, buy me a dollhouse” on a TV news report and rushed to fulfill the order.) The words have to correspond to the book you’ve selected in the app, though you don’t have to read the text from the beginning or keep any specific time. The app can recognize where you are in the book no matter where you start or whether you dive off into a tangent about how cool caterpillars are before resuming the story.

Novel Effect is part of Amazon’s Alexa Accelerator for voice recognition technology, and it seems feasible that one day this kind of functionality would be a skill you could enable on your Echo or other voice-controlled assistant. According to MIT Technology Review, the company hopes to allow users to create their own sound effects sometime in the near future.

[h/t MIT Technology Review]

Google Creates First AI Doodle for Bach’s Birthday

Google
Google

Although there’s some debate about Johann Sebastian Bach’s exact birth date, today is roughly the 334th anniversary of the famous composer’s birth. In celebration of Bach’s contributions to a genre that would later be called classical music, Google created a Doodle that lets users create a song in Bach’s signature style.

Google has created musical Doodles before, but what sets this one apart is that it’s the first-ever Doodle powered by artificial intelligence, according to Newsweek. In this case, users create a simple melody by choosing their preferred notes on a musical staff, then increasing or decreasing the pace (measured in beats per minute, or BPM) or changing the key, if desired. Once satisfied, all they have to do is hit the “harmonize” button and let AI create a more sophisticated tune.

Fortunately for Google, there was a lot of material to draw from. Bach was a busy man, creating more than 1100 compositions in his lifetime (while also finding time to father 20 children). However, for this Doodle, a machine-learning model called Coconet was fed a portion of his oeuvre—306 harmonies in total. In addition to being trained to recognize the musical patterns in Bach's work, the model is also capable of creating harmonies, smooth transitions, and compositions from scratch.

“So when you create a melody of your own on the model in the Doodle, it harmonizes that melody in Bach's specific style,” Google explained in a statement. And just for fun, there’s a feature that lets you hear what the harmony would sound like in a modern rock style.

For a behind-the-scenes look of how the Bach Doodle was made, from both an artistic and technical perspective, check out Google’s video below.

[h/t Newsweek]

What's the Difference Between a Router and a Modem?

iStock.com/Grassetto
iStock.com/Grassetto

Despite using it every day, the internet is still a mystery to many of its users. If asked to explain how your home internet connection works, you may start with your router and modem. Both devices are essential to setting up a wireless network, but they serve distinct functions. Here are the major differences between the two pieces of hardware that make home internet run.

What is a Modem?

Cable modem.
iStock.com/sambrogio

The modem is your home's gateway to the World Wide Web. It's often a skinny box with a row of LED icons on the front that tell you if it's on and connected to the internet. The name is short for modulator-demodulator—a phrase left over from the days of dial-up when modems worked by modulating telephone signals into frequencies that could send digital information.

Today, most modems use broadband connections like cable or satellite to transmit data. There are different types of modems built to fit different connections. If your internet service provider (ISP) uses cable or fiber internet, you'll need to plug a cable into the back of your modem, and if you still use a digital subscriber line (DSL), you'll have to plug in a phone line.

What is a Router?

Internet router.
iStock.com/farakos

You can connect to the internet with just a modem as long as you don't mind plugging your device directly into the Ethernet port. But if you want to provide internet to all the laptops, desktops, and smartphones in your home at the same time, you'll need a router.

Routers usually lie flat and have antennas sticking out of them. The router hooks up to your modem via an Ethernet cable and acts as a conduit between the direct internet and your home network. After connecting your devices, the router "routes" your modem's networking traffic their way, either through Ethernet wires or wirelessly through Wi-Fi (that's what the antennas are for). The router also works in the other direction by routing data sent from your computer back to the web.

Why Knowing the Difference Matters

When they've been sitting in the same spot in your home for years, it's easy to think of your router and modem as basically the same thing. But it's worth knowing the difference—especially if you care about improving your internet connection. Now that you know the router is what directs Wi-Fi signals, you can boost your home network by placing it in a central location away from electronic appliances. And as long as it doesn't interfere with the router, feel free to hide your modem behind a houseplant.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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