Are you a fan of Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, or Microsoft Cortana? Have you heard that they are the next generation of technologies? Well, if so, then congratulations! It’s hard to imagine any other voice assistant technology that competes with these three giants. They have been rated as the best in their respective categories and many users find them more than helpful as indicated by the graph below. At this time, however, they are still in their infancy.
(Image Source: Voicebot AI)
To date, voice assistants have been designed mostly for home use and only serve one function at a time. Siri, Alexa, and Cortana are limited to answering a question or finding an item on a list. However, there is more to it. If we take note of the underlying technologies behind these three assistants, we might notice that they have much more capabilities than they are perceived to be.
Take Siri for example Siri has been designed by Apple Inc., who also contributed heavily in the development of iOS and OS X. In other words she is a product of Apple much like their newest iPhone14 handset. In fact, Siri has been compared to HAL 9000 from the movie Space Odyssey. The voice assistant appears to be very human in her responses, which is why many users find her so appealing. In addition, she has been trained to speak 7 different languages and can be configured to accept orders in different ways. For example, you can ask Siri a question directly or you can ask her to perform a set of tasks (known as Siri Shortcuts). But their capabilities are so wide that they could be deemed as still being in their infancy?
Voice assistants are complex systems that require a powerful backend
Whatever the purpose or function of this voice assistant, she is highly dependent on the backend. The full potential of voice assistants does not exist without giving them a powerful algorithmic framework (for example, Siri needs access to faces to understand your request, and she can also understand context (e.g., if you ask her to “play music” at home and then “at work”, she will perform different tasks). She can also respond in different ways depending on context (such as “that’s a great idea,” or “Sorry sir, I don’t have those items in stock. Can I help you find something else?”).
The reality is that whenever you use Siri, you are not using a computer or a tablet. You are using a voice-driven computer with the ability to do things you can’t ever imagine. This means that the power and performance of this assistant does not come cheap. Apple spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing Siri and behind every action, there is an application programming interface (API) which needs to be called. This means that before any task can be done, certain APIs need to be called and executed. In addition, there are also advanced AI algorithms used in real-time responses during each interaction session.
Voice assistants are just one part of the puzzle that makes a smart home
Despite being the most advanced smart home platform in the market today, Amazon Alexa is still only a part of your connected home. While it can control almost anything you might find in your house, her true potential is never fully realised because she works with so many third-party devices. Many times, she (or they) will not respond to your command or have limited functionality as compared to what you have been told or expected.
This is because voice-enabled devices are compliance tools that are designed for use by third-party developers. What this means is that no matter how advanced or powerful it is, it will still have issues connecting to other devices. This makes the smart home a perfect example of an IoT (internet of things) system because it is composed of so many devices with different standards and protocols. When you take this into account, you realise that voice-based systems will always have limitations and problems.
Voice assistants are still in their infancy and truly useful when integrated into a smart home
The reality is that no matter how advanced or powerful voice assistance has become, it cannot stand on its own without the existence of other types of smart technologies, yet. Voice services are only useful when they are integrated with other technology systems. They will still be limited as compared to what a human can accomplish.
For example, Amazon Alexa works very well in your kitchen refrigerator or on your bathroom mirror, but she needs access to other devices to perform tasks such as lighting up or controlling the music in your home theatre system. Siri does not work well if you want to control smart appliances with her commands such as the lights in your house or the connected smart lock. She can’t do this because Apple’s platform has not yet made it possible for them to have a common language and protocol that connects all of these devices together.
This means that even if you invest in a powerful voice-driven system for your home, you will still need to rely on other smart home technologies to get the job done. For example, your indoor lighting may be controlled by a Z-Wave Smart Controller or a ZigBee Scheduler. There is also the possibility that you might need to work with other communication protocols such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth (in case you want to integrate your voice assistant with an Amazon Alexa Skill).
Using voice-driven systems requires you to do some research
The short answer to that would be yes. We are still waiting for voice assistant technologies to mature, but is it just a matter of time? There are already a few indications that the industry is growing. The first hint is the improvement in speech recognition and artificial intelligence accuracy. In fact, Google has been able to reach human level accuracy on its own services.
It’s expected that sales of smart speakers are supposed to rise from 4 million units sold in 2017 to 119 million units sold in 2022 according to CIRP. Such a huge increase in demand for voice assistants is a good indicator of their relevance as well. However, we still have to wait for a few more years to see these technologies reach their maturity