19 March 2018

Speech recognition app will transcribe conversations between multiple people

Source: NVIDIA blog post. The Otter team at AISense.
Source: NVIDIA blog post. The Otter team at AISense.

US-based AISense has launched Otter, a GPU-powered app that records speech and produces both voice files and transcriptions from multiple people. Most of the software available today must be trained to recognise the voice of their owner, and will not recognise speech accurately from multiple people.

Human-to-human interactions are much more difficult to capture than human-to-machine interactions such as simple commands between people and Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant, AISense co-founder and CEO Sam Liang points out in a blog post. While they typically handle short queries or commands from a single speaker, Otter can manage longer conversations involving multiple people. 

AISense’s proprietary Ambient Voice Intelligence technology allows people to store, search, share and analyse voice conversations. Powered by Ambient Voice Intelligence, Otter allows users to scroll through text, labeled as coming from multiple people, and gives the option to listen, as well. The app provides better than 90% accuracy in text dictation, says the company.

Otter has to handle the complicated interactions of people and nuances of conversations, and it can get tripped up by accents in people’s speech, said Liang. “This is a pretty deep technology. It’s extremely difficult,” he said. “We had to do pretty sophisticated supervised learning, and we had to get a lot of labelled data, with hundreds of thousands of hours of recordings.” 

The 15-person team at AISense trained Otter on 50 NVIDIA Tesla GPUs and terabytes of freely-available audio and transcripts from the archives of National Public Radio (NPR) radio programmes and Supreme Court proceedings available at the US Library of Congress. This means that Otter will work best with US accents. 

Said Liang, “It’s a startup and we have to spend money very frugally. But we have to spend some resources on GPUs — it’s just a must.” 

The company is targeting Otter at enterprise customers who might use it in meetings. AISense plans to release a premium version that will require a subscription, and it already licenses some of its technology to enterprise customers.

AISense is also working with partners to deliver similar results. It recently partnered with Zoom Video Communications to handle voice data, which is being automatically transcribed with AISense’s technology.


Otter is available free on iOSAndroid and the web.

16 March 2018

Philips sleep study finds insomnia and snoring are universal issues

oym 028 The Birdee Numnum hostel in Brisbane, Australia.
The Birdee Numnum hostel in Brisbane, Australia, 2007.

Philips’ global sleep study has found that insomnia (26%) and snoring (21%) are universal issues that impact sleep for more than one in five adults*. The study also reveals that people tend to feel guiltier about not exercising or about eating unhealthily than they do about not getting enough rest.

Research also shows that many of us fall short on the quality of sleep, too. A recent local study found that as many as one in three Singaporeans suffer from a medical condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)**, where a person stops breathing many times while they sleep, interrupting sleep quality. If left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to more serious health conditions, and yet most Singaporeans who suffer from it are not even aware if they have it. According to Philips, snoring is a common side-effect for OSA.

A Philips sleep expert says, “Obstructive sleep apnea is a common, yet often underdiagnosed, sleep disorder. It occurs when a person’s upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow. If left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to serious medical conditions including heart attacks, glaucoma, diabetes, cancer, and cognitive and behavioural disorders.

“Whilst many block it out with ear plugs, loud and un-rhythmic snoring can indicate blockage and could be a sign of something much more serious. We would highly recommend anyone in this situation to check in with their GP (doctor).”
“Snoring is not just a ‘guy thing’, and nor is sleep apnea,” adds Philips’ spokesperson. “Whilst it’s more common in men than women, ladies can still develop it, particularly as they get older.”
Besides consulting a doctor or sleep specialist, it is also possible to diagnose the condition with home-test kits.

To celebrate World Sleep Day on 16 March, Philips shares some tips for better quality sleep: 

Digital detox
Using electronics just before you sleep can keep you awake because bright light can throw the body’s biological clock off. Put away your phone and screens at least half an hour before bedtime, and preferably sleep without them by your side.

Get into a routine
Philips’ global sleep survey found that less than half of adults maintain a regular bedtime schedule and less than one in three feel guilty about not maintaining good sleeping habits. And yet a consistent, predictable bedtime routine can help people fall asleep more quickly and improve sleep quality. Try to make sleep just as important as sticking to an exercise or eating regime, and keep close to the same bedtime every night.

A soothing atmosphere
A cool, quiet and dark room is best for quality sleep. Playing soothing music and turning down the room temperature can help calm the senses and create a peaceful sleeping environment. Avoid using the bedroom for daytime activities like work.

Rule out any sleep issues
Visit a GP or sleep specialist to discuss the possibility of a home-test for sleep problems.

Source: Philips. World Sleep Day 2018 infographic.
Source: Philips. World Sleep Day 2018 infographic.


*Philips global sleep survey, Better Sleep, Better Health. A Global Look at Why We’re Still Falling Short on Sleep

**JurongHealth, One in three Singaporeans have moderate to severe sleep apnea and one in 10 Singaporeans suffer from severe sleep apnea: Study, 17 March 2016.

15 March 2018

Dell shares highlights for IT Show 2018

Dell's star buys at the IT Show 2018, on till 18 March at Suntec Singapore include:

Source: Dell. The Dell XPS 13.
Source: Dell. The Dell XPS 13.
The XPS 13 in rose gold (new)
From S$2,899

- Powered by Intel 8th Gen Quad Core processors, the XPS 13 is the most powerful 13" device in its class and the smallest 13" on the planet.

- 4K Ultra HD InfinityEdge display

- Introduces Dell Cinema, delivering CinemaColor, CinemaStream with wireless channels, and CinemaSound with Waves MaxxAudio Pro


- Free one-year Premium Support with accidental damage coverage

- Free one-year Absolute LoJack subscription. Absolute LoJack is software for theft recovery.

- Free Microsoft Office 365

Source: Dell. The Dell Inspiron 13 5000 laptop.
Source: Dell. The Inspiron 13 5000.
The Inspiron 13 5000 laptop (new)
From S$1,199

- Powered by 8th Gen Intel Core processors, and an AMD Radeon R 530 graphics card

- Available in classic Platinum Silver and trendsetting Pink Champagne


- Free one-year Premium Support with onsite service

- Free Microsoft Office 365

Source: Dell. The Alienware 17.
Source: Dell. The Alienware 17.
The Alienware 17 gaming laptop
From S$2,899

- A 17” LCD screen with supported FHD, QHD 120Hz and an anti-glare finish

- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 10-series graphics and NVIDIA G-SYNC enabled with Tobii Eye-tracking

- Virtual reality (VR)-ready system that is both Oculus Ready and Vive Optimized certified, powered by NVIDIA VRWorks technology


- Free one-year Premium Support

- Free Alienware Advanced Gaming Mouse (worth S$69)

- Free Alienware Advanced Gaming Keyboard (worth S$159)


Products will be available at Dell’s exclusive retailers - look for booths 8241 (main booth), 8205, 8108, 8130, 8235, 8111, 8143, and 305.

12 March 2018

Raffles Hotel Singapore releases short film by local director

Source: Raffles Hotel, Singapore. The Grand  Lobby, Raffles Hotel, pre-renovation.
Source: Raffles Hotel, Singapore. The Grand
Lobby, Raffles Hotel, pre-renovation.
Raffles Hotel Singapore has announced We Were Built, a short film directed by Singaporean award-winning film-maker and director Kirsten Tan.

The film draws inspiration from the history of Raffles Hotel Singapore, with a focus on its close bond to the history of Singapore and its literary heritage. The film’s title comes from a poem of the same name, specially commissioned by the hotel and penned by writer-poet Amanda Lee Koe, Singapore’s youngest Literature Prize winner.

Tan has had works showcased at over 60 international film festivals. In 2017, she became the first Singaporean to have her debut feature film compete at the Sundance Film Festival; it subsequently won the Special Jury Award for Screenwriting. She was also honoured with the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council, the highest accolade for artistic achievement for young art practitioners in Singapore.

We Were Built was conceptualised through Kirsten’s personal interactions which she experienced during her stay at Raffles Hotel Singapore. Tan said, “The moment I stepped in, its distinctive quality is inescapable: you feel like you've been transported to a different time altogether. Corinthian pillars, a tinkling piano, dark wood patios, a scented pillow. I wanted to capture that aura of lyrical timelessness, that sumptuous pause that counteracts the hectic fever of modern life.”

“Like many Singaporeans, I’ve felt special reverence for Raffles Hotel through the years: a magical oasis in the heart of Singapore. I've always been particularly moved by the proud literary history of the Raffles – it hosted and inspired world-famous writers from Somerset Maugham to Rudyard Kipling. This film is an ode to these writers, to time, to Raffles' exquisite affiliations with these great minds through the 130 years of its existence. Raffles Hotel is a landmark and a constant, quietly and proudly bearing witness to our shared histories and futures. It was imperative for me to illustrate how she stands silent, strong and storied – as elegant, eternal and essential as time itself,” said Tan. “We’re also deeply honoured to have legendary Chinese American movie star, Lisa Lu, who performed in acclaimed titles like The Last Emperor and The Joy Luck Club, make a special appearance in our film.”

Christian Westbeld, GM, Raffles Hotel Singapore, said, “The film perfectly captures the hotel’s storied history, and offers viewers a glimpse into what it means to be a guest at Raffles Hotel Singapore. We would like to invite the public to view this short film and accompany us, as we journey through time, and discover the story of how a national icon came to be.  This story of Raffles Hotel Singapore continues to be told, while we anticipate the beginning of its next chapter, when the newly restored icon is unveiled later this year.”

Raffles Hotel Singapore is currently in its third and final phase of its restoration, which sees the full closure of the hotel before its planned reopening in 2H18. During the closure of the hotel, signature Raffles experiences will be showcased at 3 Seah Street, which remains open throughout the restoration.

Opened in 1887, Raffles Hotel Singapore is one of the few remaining great 19th century hotels in the world. Till today, its architecture is perfectly preserved both inside and out, giving it an intoxicating blend of luxury, history and classic colonial design. Within its walls are more than a hundred expansive suites, framed by polished teak verandas and white marble colonnades, clustered around lush tropical gardens.  Each is serviced by the legendary Raffles butlers and offers every modern convenience necessary.


View the film

10 March 2018

Two new Taj resorts announced for 2018

Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris puts the Andamans on the map in April 2018 with the first luxury resort to open on the archipelago.

Source: Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris. The Taj Exotica.
Source: Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris. The Taj Exotica.

The new Taj Exotica will be located on Havelock Island on the crescent-shaped Radnanagar Beach, offering 72 villas resort-style.

Inspired by the pitch-roof stilt huts inhabited by the indigenous Jawara tribe, Taj Exotica is set in 46 acres of jungle, forests and mangroves with care taken to preserve the ecosystem of the island. To limit the resort’s carbon footprint, not a single tree was felled during the construction of the resort. The surrounding coconut and Areca nut trees as well as the mangroves remain undisturbed and have been incorporated into the resort’s design. An onsite bottling plant, waste disposal system and a sanitation treatment plant for water purification have been set up. Additional green initiatives will include solar energy panels for generating electricity to further reduce the consumption of diesel.

Guests can also meet with the in-house Naturalist who will work closely with the local NGOS and authorities towards the preservation of the marine life and the natural environment, which enjoys an abundance of bird life – over 270 species have been sighted on the archipelago.  Havelock Island is well known for its dive sites and Taj can offer interesting destination experiences including underwater photography, kayaking through the mangroves, and diving. Both Radhanagar and Elephant beaches are within reach.

The new resort will also be home to a Jiva Spa and three restaurants, each of which tell the history of the island’s inhabitants – including the Indian freedom fighters incarcerated by the British in the 19th century in the notorious Cellular Jail and the brief occupation of the Japanese during World War II.

The Settlers fine dining restaurant uses homegrown ingredients to create innovative dishes rooted in the flavours of Southeast Asian, Tamil, Keralan and Bengali cuisine, while speciality restaurant Shoreline offers coastal curries and fish from the Andaman sea and Bay of Bengal. For international comfort food, Turtle House offers global grills and a selection of Taj signature dishes curated from the chefs at leading Taj Hotels.

New for autumn 2018 is Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa – a new resort located in the foothills of the Himalayas on the banks of the river Ganges. The hotel will be situated 30 km downstream from Devprayag, where the rivers Alaknanda and Bhagirathi merge to form the holy Ganges. Each of the 81 rooms, including 47 villas, and the public areas overlook the Ganges and the pristine forest beyond.

This property will offer the very best of yoga and meditation as part of the Jiva Spa, in line with the rich expertise from the Yoga Masters of Rishikesh. Guests will enjoy practicing Yoga in a special pavilion situated by the river.

The hotel is along a new route opening up in North India, as Taj Swarna opened in Amritsar at the beginning of 2017 and Taj Theog – a new hill station resort is due open in Shimla at the end of 2018.


Prices at Taj Exotica start from INR 25,000 excluding taxes.

Rates at Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa are to be confirmed upon opening.

Teardrop Hotels adds three tea plantation experiences in Sri Lanka this year

Three former tea planters’ houses from Teardrop Hotels are opening in 2018.

Following the launch of Camellia Hills in July 2017, the portfolio expands with Goatfell, Nine Skies and Pekoe House, all fully-renovated vintage managers’ bungalows along the tea country route.

The opening of these bungalows will see Teardrop Hotels transform the hill country’s boutique hotel scene, bringing a modern vibe to traditional tea plantations and offering contemporary aesthetics and modern Asian-British dining.

Opening in April 2018, Goatfell is a former superintendent’s residence located on a working tea estate and at one of the highest elevation points above Nuwara Eliya. Goatfell consists of four ensuite bedrooms in the main house and two standalone chalets, with living and dining rooms and a swimming pool.

Meanwhile, Nine Skies is also set to launch in April 2018 and will be located near Ella. It is built on a grander scale as befits a director’s bungalow. The six-bedroom luxury hotel is set within several acres of private gardens, with a croquet lawn, swimming pool and sun deck, and panoramic views across the valley to the working tea factory and famous Demodera loop.

The final tea estate, due to open late 2018, is Pekoe House, located in the Kandy area. Within reach (and view) of the Knuckles Mountain Range, Pekoe House will have six double bedrooms, a swimming pool, croquet lawn, and living/dining space, as well as excellent food. Activities will include tea factory tours and treks up Hunas mountain.


Rates start from US$495 per room per night based on double occupancy and on an all-inclusive basis.