Back in October of this year a video of a little girl struggling to listen to her favorite song, “Baby Shark Dance,” went viral.
The girl, all but three years old, wasn’t trying to figure it out on an iPod, iPhone, or radio. This wasn’t a laptop or some super high-tech device. Rather, this young angel was trying her best to activate Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa.
With the Echo device positioned high on the kitchen counter, the little girl in a yellow coat repeatedly tries to get Alexa to, “play Baby Shark.” But Alexa can’t quite understand toddler speak.
Finally, her mother steps in to deliver the command clearly, and Alexa gets the message in what ended up being one of the cutest moments of the year.
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When watching the video it’s easy to be captured by the girl’s cuteness and by her reaction upon finally hearing the song. It completely distracts us from the fact that voice interface technology is so easy that a three-year-old can do it. But that’s because it’s already become the norm.
Just as touch screens became second nature and how eventually hiring strangers as our personal taxis became a way of life, now we’re barking commands at anything with a power button.
Gartner estimates that 30% of our interactions with technology will be through conversations with smart machines by the end of this year and according to research firm eMarketer, the number of Americans using a voice assistant device is forecasted to grow 129% to 36 million people this year. Now, one in six U.S. adults owns a voice-activated smart speaker or device.
Because of the speed in which voice interaction technology responds and ease of use, it can serve a multitude of purposes. From cars, to talking fridges and furniture, voice is easily becoming an all-pervasive presence in technology, and it’s only the beginning.
The little girl in the video was attempting to use Amazon’s Echo device or Alexa-enabled speaker — which is basically a female virtual assistant that talks to you in a conversational manner — but has products beyond just speakers. Amazon has integrated its technology into everyday household items like lamps, TV’s, light switches, and even refrigerators.
At IFA 2017, which is a massive tech show in Berlin, the U.S. startup Neato Robotics unveiled a vacuuming robot that connects to one of several smart home platforms, including Amazon’s Echo system. In this case, voice interface is engineered to instruct the machine to clean up around the house at a set day and hour each week by speaking to an Echo smart speaker. Similarly, Germany’s Elgato unveiled five new household accessories, including smoke detectors and door locks, that are powered by Apple’s HomeKit platform — another voice interface technology that syncs all of your apple products to your voice.
Alexa is described as a voice recognition and natural language understanding service that allows you to voice-enable any connected device that has a microphone and speaker. It’s Simple enough to be used in the most creative ways, which is why since getting a head start in the field in 2014, Amazon’s artificially intelligent speakers have captured a 70% share of the voice-controlled speaker market.
Cars have experienced this trend, too. Amazon has already partnered with Logitech, meaning you can use Alexa in any Ford, Volkswagen or Volvo, and this past September at their second annual hardware event, Amazon announced Echo Auto, an in-car accessory that allows you to integrate Alexa into your car, to the market.
By simply connecting a 3.5mm aux jack or using your phone’s bluetooth, you can equip your entire ride with Echo Auto. That means hands-free navigation, asking for the closest gas station and even calling for help about car trouble. It comes with a dashboard mount, runs on real-time OS from Amazon, and uses your phone’s cloud for internet connectivity.
Much like how touch screens, thumbprint and facial recognition, soon anything and everything digital will have voice interface technology and it’ll be like it was always there.
The next step for Alexa would be going from entertaining one conversation to entertaining multiple. So, instead of only issuing one command and getting one answer back, a more human back and forth would ensue. Our job right now, however, is jumping on the opportunity that’s already here with the technology we already have.
Take the financial service JPMorgan Chase & Co for example. In March of this year, it was announced that the company would be incorporating Amazon’s Alexa to the Wall Street trading floors. What good would voice command do on the trading floor, you may ask? How about “provide JPMorgan’s Wall Street users with another way to access its research and send analysts’ reports and related queries”, global head of markets execution for the New York-based bank, David Hudson says.
Or in retail, you could use voice interface to aid with warehouse picking or when giving a presentation, using a programmed command to advance to the next slide?
Getting ahead of the voice interface curve is still possible. This is the type of technology that will free employees up to work more efficiently, address more customer needs and push businesses further than ever before. It’s up to us how we take advantage.