Everywhere you read that 2019 will be the year of the AI’s, bots and smart assistants who will take on a variety of tasks. But how much is the hype about Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant,  Microsoft Cortana & iOS Siri? A personal assessment.

 

According to Gartner’s ” Top 20 Strategic Predictions for 2017 and Beyond, ” in less than three years, we’ll talk more about machines than humans. Specifically, Gartner predicts: By 2020, the average person wants to have more conversations with bots than with their spouse .

More talks with bots than with the spouse? At first glance, a thought that is as scary as it is depressing – well, admittedly not for every spouse …

Remote Online Zombies?

But those who imagine such a world without social interactions, in which we ignore fellow human beings and our relationship with our personal assistants of a relationship, has a good imagination (or just too often ” Her” seen). In fact, it should be assumed that much of the conversation with smart wizards and AI-powered bots will only serve to replace and simplify the manual operation of our smart devices. Added to this is the fact that part of our web browsing time will no longer be on screen. At least that’s what Gartner says. Specifically, according to the prediction experts 30 percent of the browsing time no longer take place on the screen. Inquiries, searches or services are claimed “orally”, so to speak. And you should always question such “predictions” very critically, keyword ” hype cycle ” and ” hot air“.

The Big Four in the Smart Assistant War

Whatever the exact numbers in four years will look like: The big technology companies, ie the Googles, Amazons, Microsoft and Apple’s of this world, prepare in any case for a fierce competition among the Smart Assistants – a Battle of the Bots so to speak. Apple had once opened the battle with Siri, but seems to have fallen a little behind in the Big Four comparison. Anyway, solutions such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant of the Apple AI in terms of functionality are now clearly ahead. Microsoft, however, you should necessarily have on the radar. With Cortana, the Redmonders are going to dispute Amazon and Google a piece of the Bot / Assistant cake.

Nonvisual interaction as a paradigm shift

But what are the implications of the emergence of Smart Assistants for those who create and program themselves? So far, one sees little about manners and conversations, because the technology is still in its infancy. But in the future, in my view, one very exciting aspect will be at the top of the list: While web developers and designers have spent years thinking about how to get us visually appealing, efficient, and user-friendly through the web and software in general, there is still little experience and best practices for optimal design of nonvisual interaction. Not to mention the safety aspect. It would be silly to pronounce passwords aloud. But what does a reasonable authentication method look like? if you’re on-line without a screen? It seems that there are still many questions waiting for an answer when it comes to user experience and security when dealing with smart assistants.

Customize business models

For the big tech companies, the topic of bots and smart assistants should focus on one question in particular: How does one adapt existing business models to a possibly changed user behavior? For example, Google: Speech-triggered voice-response searches have a major shortcoming from Google’s point of view: A business model that relies heavily on matching matching ads to search queries is not (yet) compatible with them. And Amazon’s business model is bound to interact with a screen, of course. The obvious solution practiced by Google, Amazon, and Microsoft is to get third-party vendors into the boat by integrating so-called skills and kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, this increases the utility of your own assistant.

Bot Battle: duel instead of fourfight

I do not dare to predict who of the Big Four in the end will have the edge and offers the best bot or assistant. Only so much: Amazon has presented with Alexa times really and offers – now also in this country – an interesting overall package, not least with the integration of services such as Amazon Video and Amazon Music, but also with the control of smart home and consumer electronics scores. However, in terms of pure potential, I’m curious to see how Google Assistant develops. Because Google is able to make use of an incredible amount of data, everyone can imagine. And these data play a not insignificant role in providing the most effective Smart Assistant possible.

 

 

Amazon Alexa as a personal butler

For me personally, the question of home automation or the control of my consumer electronics plays a role. That’s why my own Smart Assistant adventure begins with Amazon Alexa. Ok, you do not have much choice, because Google Assistant is not available in this country yet. So as soon as Amazon (after weeks of reservation) finally orders me to order and buy the echo device as well as one or two dots, I am very curious to see how the virtual lady beats in everyday life. In addition to the usual Smart Assistant features such as weather forecast, calendar or to-do lists I am most interested in how I can use Echo and Alexa to simplify the operation of various devices. TV, set-top box, AV receiver, NAS, media player, etc. – all devices that are in my home network. And the ideally would like to control by voice command. This should go faster than pushing the corresponding buttons on several remote controls (at least one of which has been hidden by my son somewhere). I promise a lot from the Alexa Skills, ie the ability to expand the functionality with new skills – be it by already available or by programming your own skills (how does this work, incidentally explains the contribution “Alexa Skill: The first steps “). Initial research suggests that I still need to buy additional devices such as a Harmony Hub from Logitech, and then, for example, via IFFT as a “mediator” to program a variety of macros and sequences. But hey, if a voice command like “Alexa, home theater on!” Should bring the desired result, my nerd heart will leap for joy.

Is the technology accepted?

Back to the starting point. I am still very skeptical as to whether communication with smart assistants will prevail in all areas of life. It is understandable that one communicates with a bot or smart assistant in one’s own home. Especially when it is fast and comfortable. However, in my opinion, the situation is quite different when you are in public space. I, for my part, I find it funny to pull my iPhone on the bus or in the restaurant to ask Siri for help. But maybe this circumstance is owed only to my age. The generation, which grows with smartphones and the knowledge to be online everywhere, often has a completely different approach to – and dealing with – new forms of interaction.

Privacy and Privacy

And then there is the aspect of privacy, which we as Germans always have in mind. Apart from the fact that Alexa must of course always listen in order to be able to respond to a speech, is still the question to be answered, what happens to the “intercepted”. It can be assumed that language queries are stored and used in exactly the same way as the inquiries we make in writing to Amazon and Google via the web. And not only to improve the service for other users, but also to play personalized offers and advertising. To believe otherwise would be naive.

But the big difference is this: A Google or Amazon search is something I type in the search box. But Alexa Alexa just has to listen in to be able to react to the signal word “Alexa”. It is therefore simply a personal decision whether to follow the assurances of the providers and believes that only the statements that are made after the signal word are stored and reused. In addition, the audio files sent to the Amazon and Google data centers are encrypted. That should reduce the risk of getting a potential interception device into the house. Of course, no system is completely safe. After all, both Amazon Echo and Google Home have real “mute” buttons to turn off the microphone.

Conclusion

No conclusion without a nice general place! Therefore, this first: 2019 will be an exciting year – especially in terms of Bots and Smart Assistants. However, the functionality of the available services is still manageable. But that will certainly change over the next few months, also because there are dedicated communities that make the assistants more powerful through self-developed skills.

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