“Open sesame!” the magical phrase that reveals a hidden treasure, was once the stuff of legend and fairy tales, but today it’s been replaced by “Hello, Siri,” “Alexa,” or “Ok, Google” as a way to instantly unlock the riches of the internet.
Earlier this month on the exhibit floor of CES 2017, the showplace for what’s next in gadgets and gizmos, manufacturers showed off an expanding array of ways to use voice control to run computers, cars, smart homes and televisions. All of those devices depend upon access to a powerful, ubiquitous wired broadband infrastructure which provides a foundation for wireless networks.
Voice control is rapidly replacing the keyboard stroke, mouse click and finger tap as a preferred way to control computers, smart devices and personal data.
Less than three years after it was introduced, Amazon’s Echo sits on a table in about four percent of American households. Apple’s Siri handles over two billion commands a week, and 20 percent of Google searches on Android-powered handsets in America come via voice commands, according to a recent Economist report.
“The introduction of voice controls through solutions such as Amazon Alexa-enabled products has opened new possibilities in how consumers can interact with smart home products and services. As a result, we’ve seen a rush among major players to integrate with Amazon and other similar solutions that will create new avenues to engage consumers with the smart home,” said Tom Kerber, Director, IoT Strategy for Parks Associates in the white paper, “Top 10 Consumers Trends in 2017."
The next frontier for voice-based computing: teaching computers to hold elaborate conversations about complex tasks such as making travel arrangements, instead of simple, one-off commands. (“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”) Amazon, a leader in voice control is offering $2.5 million in prizes to advance what it calls “conversational artificial intelligence,” including $1 million for a “socialbot” that can converse “coherently and engagingly” for 20 minutes.
While a promising new way to interact with technology, voice-based computing raises a host of privacy and security concerns. Such devices are personalized, which compels users to give the software access to sensitive data such as calendars, contacts, e-mails and web browsing histories.
Some consumers are nervous about internet-linked microphones in every room listening to every conversation while waiting to be activated, even though only the words spoken immediately after the trigger phrase (“Hey, Siri!”) are sent to the cloud to be acted on.
On the plus side, voice computing can improve consumer privacy in some ways. Since individual vocal patterns are unique, voice computing offers a way to eliminate the annoying task of remembering and resetting passwords. With a simple voice command, logging into secure sites might be done seamlessly and painlessly.