• Kimberly Howard-Thomassen

“Alexa, Read This Blog”

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand.” “Here’s what I found on that.” “…”

We’ve come a long way technologically that we, as humans, are comfortable speaking to inanimate objects and expecting a response. However, there’s still work to be done in the breadth of smart speaker’s programmed understanding. We may very well be headed toward a future outlined in the 2013 sci-fi drama “Her”, with smart speakers advanced enough to become our friends and romantic partners, but for now we’ll deal with occasional canned responses when Alexa, Siri, et al., don’t have what we’re looking for.

Even with the associated privacy issues, the use of smart speakers is rapidly growing. The number of them in United States households grew by 78 percent from 2017 to 2018, so now one in five adults in the U.S. own a smart speaker.1 Simply, it’s easier to speak than it is to type, so it’s estimated that in 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be conducted by voice.2 The most common requests to smart speakers, according to an NPR study, are to play music, get the weather or answer a general question. As technology and AI become more advanced, so will our requests for information.

Google is already testing AI that is heading in that direction. Google Duplex, is a portion of Google’s AI that can call a restaurant or hair salon and make a reservation or appointment by having an actual conversation with the person on the other end of the call. According to the NPR study, more than half the people who own smart speakers own more than one. When you consider smart devices like TVs, refrigerators and security systems, living with a “maid”, “butler” and “personal assistant” via technology isn’t too far off.

The privacy concerns and current limitations on elements of AI are valid considerations, but that’s not stopping consumers from embracing the technology. Where consumers go, brands follow—and the world of voice AI is no different. Starbucks utilized voice to make ordering quicker and easier for its customers. Kayak is using Alexa to make travel search a simpler process for its users. Johnnie Walker implemented an Alexa skill, as well, to help users learn more about its whiskies.

Hollywood, from “Westworld” to “Ex Machina” to “Her”, where these advanced machines become sentient with complicated repercussions, has made AI and deeper learning a frightening proposition. That’s probably not the future we’re in for (hopefully), but emerging technologies driven by the advancement of artificial intelligence are all around us. The lesson for brands is that consumers continually find value in time-savers and convenience. Be knowledgeable, because technology is a good thing when handled with care.

1 https://www.nationalpublicmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/The_Smart_Audio_Report_Spring_2019.pdf

2 https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2018/04/10/voice-search-statistics-2018

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