Hey Alexa, are home assistants fulfilling their potential?

While voice-led home assistants have become increasingly popular in recent years, the voice recognition technology that underpins them dates back to 1962 with IBM’s Shoebox. The Shoebox was able to perform mathematical functions, recognise 16 spoken words and digits 0-9.

Fast forward 50 years, and Apple’s debut of Siri helped to transform the way we interact with our personal technology. Similarly, Amazon Echo’s entry to the market in 2014, incorporating Alexa, kickstarted the current home assistant market.

The evolution of voice technology

Today, alongside Alexa, consumers have a wide array of home assistants to choose from.  Globally, the market is growing, most notably in China with tech giant Alibaba’s Tsmall Genie X1 and search giant Baidu’s Xiaoyu (which comes equipped with a screen and camera, allowing for a visual interface and video chat).

Market players are also continuously developing their product offer. Google reported that by the end of 2018, the Google Assistant will be able to speak 30 languages, enough to cover 95% of Android Users. Google Assistant will also bring the potential to be multilingual – by automatically detecting your language each time you speak and respond in kind.

Besides language, home assistants are also becoming more personal, by introducing personalities, accents, and voices (including John Legend’s and Yoda).

Current usage

Home assistants’ capabilities definitely suggest a valuable addition to the lives of consumers. But is this potential being realised?

Apparently not, based on a recent survey of 1000 British adults. Over half use their home assistants for news and weather updates, 15% use it to entertain their kids and 1 in 5 use this cutting-edge technology to… time the boiling of an egg.

In the same survey, 80% expressed a fear of being recorded. This suggests an issue of trust for home assistants to overcome. Mattel’s introduction of Aristotle, a voice-controlled AI device aimed at children, was recalled in 2017 due to privacy concerns.

It seems that home assistants must find a way to become more useful to more people, which is not always the case at the moment, evident in the 30% who have completely forgotten they owned a home assistant in the first place.

Beyond voice and the home

Looking into the future, there are numerous ways in which the market may yet develop. For example, NASA has opened the possibility of removing voice completely from such devices, having developed a system that uses sensors on the skin of the throat and neck to interpret activity. When users silently move their tongues as if speaking, the system can tell what words they’re forming—even if they don’t produce any noise and barely move their lips.

Elsewhere, numerous companies, including Sony and Apple, have developed wireless earbuds with microphones so your home assistant may even coach you on dates and interview. Such a development may also serve a more important function, such as discreetly reminding you to take your medication.

If you are wondering of other ways to use your Amazon Alexa, here, here are top 5 things, beyond telling the time or playing music that you could try:

  1. Use Alexa to reply to your colleagues on Slack
  2. Learn how to make over 12,000 cocktails, while you wait for your egg to boil
  3. Get Alexa to put you to sleep with sounds of an “Oscillating Fan” or “Ocean Villa” – a sleep story
  4. Try to stay alive in the Westworld universe
  5. Enjoy philosophical musings with the Philosoraptor (not intended for young children or liberal arts majors).

About Jane Gan

Jane Gan is a recent law graduate who has been with MTM as a strategy intern for the past 3 months. She was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur and will be returning home after 7 years. She hopes to one day own a French bulldog called Quentin.