From Smart Speaker to Potential Phone Replacement: Amazon Echo and Google Home

The article on Engadget titled Amazon Echo and Google Home Want to Be Your New House Phone consider the perks and downsides of Amazon and Google adding making and receiving phone calls to the functions of their respective smart speakers. The article states,

Amazon and Google could introduce the ability to make and receive calls on their respective platforms later this year. The companies could make use of their existing communication platforms, since Amazon already has the business-focused videoconferencing tool Chime. Meanwhile, Google has Hangouts, Duo, and… Google Voice. Incorporating existing VoIP services like Skype and Vonage into their devices may be another way to go. Echo and Home could also have their own phone numbers, or the option to sync an existing number…

So what is standing in the way of this major cell phone disruption? Privacy concerns, for one thing. A key part of the technology of both platforms is a constant recording microphone ready to be activated by the proper voice command at any moment. The article points out that the eavesdropping data saved by one of these devices is already embroiled in an Arkansas murder investigation. There are other issues, like the device potentially failing to differentiate between a command and a term mentioned in a phone conversation, but privacy is the one that might actually prevent customers from buying the technology.

Chelsea Kerwin, March 7, 2017

Alexa Business Model About More Than Shopping Revenue

Amazon’s CEO dismisses the notion that Alexa is all about cashing in on an ever present, voice-activated shopping app, we’re told in Yahoo’s article, “Jeff Bezos Says We Have it All Wrong About Amazon’s Alexa.” Bezos asserts their priority is to explore the potentials of voice– playing music, controlling appliances, etc. Writer Matt Weinberger observes:

As people build more ‘skills’ for Alexa, they’re still working out how and where it can be useful. … Still, Bezos’ comments shake up the conventional wisdom on Alexa’s role in Amazon’s grand strategy.

As Bezos notes, (unless reordering) shopping really requires some sort of screen. Our question: is he sincere, or attempting to misdirect the competition? There are rumors Echo may be about to grow a touch screen.

Cynthia Murrell, March 2, 2017

A Nosy Butler for You

Amazon’s Alexa is yet to make any money, but it surely is assimilating humongous amount of Big Data of its customers, and probably is eavesdropping more than you expected.

CNET in an article titled Alexa Will Talk You into Loving Amazon says:

Amazon isn’t seeing any profit from Alexa or the Echo smart speaker that houses the virtual butler because the company keeps plowing massive investments into the voice software.

This is not surprising for a company like Amazon as the primary intent of Alexa was never meant to be a private virtual assistant. The aim was to turn users of Alexa into loyal customers that will help Amazon sell more. In the process, Amazon also collects a lot of personal information about the user, which the company ultimately will use for various purposes.

Technically, Amazon Echo powered by Alexa is a smart device, and it would not take dubious actors to figure out that it easily can be turned into a listening post. As a matter of fact, it would become even easier for people with right skill sets to start listening to your private conversations without bothering about placing listening devices or mobile vans outside your home.

As Michael R. Levin, C-Founder, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners says in the article:

Amazon’s real goal, is introducing you to Alexa and placing her in as many places in your life as possible. That’s assuming you’re not weirded out by having microphones around you that are always listening for the word Alexa.

Companies like Vizio have already been fined for collecting customer information illegally through their smart TVs. Amazon is not far behind. However, how far the rot goes, only time can tell.

Vishal Ingole, February 28, 2017

Amazons Alexa Sees Rapid Adoption Among Companies

Tech companies are rapidly adopting voice command tech, and Amazon’s Alexa seems to be winning the race.

A news article on Investor titled Amazon Alexa Dominates Voice-Command Tech at CES 2017 reveals:

At CES 2017, numerous companies announced that they are using Amazon’s Alexa voice-response technology to control their devices with spoken commands.

Though Apple with Siri and Google with Google Voice were one of the early adopters of voice-based tech assistants, Amazon with Alexa has taken a substantial lead.

One of the reasons for Alexa’s large scale adoption can be attributed to the fact that it has been released to third-party developers so that they can integrate Alexa into their smart devices. Interestingly, Google used a similar strategy to gain a stronghold on the mobile OS market.

Amazon no more is just an online retailer. Matter of fact, with Alexa, Amazon will be able to create an army of loyal customers that will be hard to match.

Vishal Ingole, February 23, 2017

Samsung Bixby a Versatile Linguist

 The Galaxy S8’s built-in personal assistant, Bixby, will lead the AI personal-assistant field in terms of the number of languages supported, according to Trusted Reviews’ article, “Samsung Could Trump Google with this Galaxy S8 Feature.” Not only Google stands to be outdone– the S8 assistant will interact in eight languages, which is seven more than Amazon’s English-only Alexa currently supports. (Reportedly, German, Chinese, and perhaps other languages are in Alexa’s near future.)

Bixby, rumor has it, is based on tech Samsung acquired when it bought Viv Labs last year. Based in San Jose, California, that company was founded in 2012 by three of the folks who’d developed Apple’s Siri.

English, Korean and Chinese will all be on board from the start, as will up to five other languages (via SamMobile). By way of comparison, Google Assistant is still only available in five languages (English, Hindi, German, Japanese and Portuguese)

 And the language race is on. This is but one aspect of the competition. Will Amazon counter Samsung’s AI precociousness by making its own microwaves and ovens for Alexa to work with? And what of Samsung’s plans to connect Bixby to appliances and wearable tech? Stay tuned.

Cynthia Murrell, February 23, 2017

Translation Earpiece on Horizon

A relic from the future is due out this year: the wearable translator. Startup Waverly Labs shares a YouTube video, “A World Without Language Barriers,” to introduce their product. They have raised over $4 million through Indiegogo for the development of the device, named the Pilot. The video should intrigue anyone who follows machine translation. A Waverly press release specifies:

Pilot uses the latest technologies in speech recognition, machine translation and wearable technology to allow users to converse without language barriers. Pilot includes a second earpiece for wireless music streaming and a mobile app, which toggles between languages.

This could also be valuable for use with foreign-language videos and other media, unlocking vast stores of knowledge for many. My question—Will the translation quality actually exceed today’s imperfect machine translation? If not, users will have to be on alert for crossed wires; the earpiece may lead one to forget errors may occur.

Early funding is now closed, but the company has moved pre-orders to its website. Each unit costs $249, and they expect to deliver in “late summer 2017.” Oh, and they come in black, white, or red. Waverly Labs was founded in 2013 and is based in New York City.

Cynthia Murrell, February 21, 2017