Voice assistants and smart speakers: Changing the way we interact with audio devices
Going forward, voice assistants will play a more significant role besides just executing our commands. AI-powered language models will enable them to be truly proactive.
With technology talking to us, we have unconsciously crawled into a new era of tech advancement. Humans have always used technology to calculate, connect, locate, and share information by collating data points. For the first time in human history, we are stepping into a domain where we have begun a dialogue with machines and will soon rely on technology to give us solutions, advice, and companionship.
Today, voice assistants are reactive. AI-powered voice assistants will soon be able to contextualise responses and proactively recommend and answer complex matters based on historical data, accessing millions of data points in a language, accent, and context we are familiar with, in seconds.
Voice assistants are in the nascent stage and have already fundamentally changed how we interact. Getting verbal responses from a device to our voice commands initially had a WOW feel when we experienced them in the form of Google Assistant and Siri on our smartphones. Gradually, as we got acclimatised to interacting with digital voice assistants, we became comfortable and reliant on talking to our phones, cars, and smart home devices for daily chores.
Voice assistants are software programs that interact with us using automatic speech recognition. Then came natural language processing that allows the machine to understand the text and search for an appropriate response. After that, we get a verbal confirmation from the device; after that, the task gets executed. All these happen in seconds. Today, with a simple voice command, we can enjoy our favourite song, artist or genre from digital streaming apps such as Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify.
There is a growing demand for smart audio products as we suddenly have to access thousands of radio stations, podcasts, or audiobooks globally with a simple voice command. An intelligent digital voice assistant audibly responds to us through ‘text to speech’--i.e., converting textual information into dialogues, while interacting with us, viz. reminders, scheduling, etc. These virtual conversations are undoubtedly contagious, and the convenience is addictive.
With changing consumer behaviour and a surge in online activities, viz. social networking, shopping, video streaming, video calls, online education, healthcare, business applications across domains, etc., the importance of voice assistant applications has been brought to the fore.
According to Market Reports World, the global voice assistant applications market was $513.6 million in 2022 and is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 7.4% from 2023 to reach $788.2 million by 2029.
Smart selection of smart speakers
With voice technology gradually becoming a primary interface to the digital world, smart speakers have become ubiquitous in our daily lives. The whole concept of having an AI voice assistant at our disposal, executing our command 24/7, has expanded the horizon of smart tech.
The three key players in the market are Siri from Apple, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. They use different platforms; none of these voice assistants have quality sound. Consumers prefer to purchase smart speakers to attach to voice assistant devices. When we do so, it’s necessary to ensure that we buy a smart speaker and not any Bluetooth speakers. It must be powered (have ampler built-in), have WiFi connectivity for a much richer sound as data loss is minimal, and have Bluetooth connectivity.
For instance, Model One Digital from Boston-based Tivoli Audio provides Chromecast and Airplay for voice assistant connectivity, alongside an FM radio. Audio Pro, a Swedish brand, also offers Chromecast, Airplay 2, and Bluetooth for multi-room audio.
Tivoli features built-in Spotify for uninterrupted music, and Audio Pro products support Apple Lossless for Apple Music.
Careful smart speaker selection enhances the audio assistant experience.
Power of voice assistants and smart speakers
As of date, we are just scratching the surface. With advancements in artificial intelligence, the areas of application for virtual assistants will become limitless. Voice assistants will eventually play more significant roles besides just executing our commands. AI-powered language models will enable voice assistants to be truly proactive.
For example, voice assistants can manage smart homes on IOT (internet of things). A voice assistant can send a voice alert to you that it has locked the entrance door that was left open while you left for work. Or it can inform you that it has sensed a power surge and proactively switched off all appliances; it can also remind you to call the electrician.
Today, the voice assistant may be capable of just reminding you of your dentist appointment, and not beyond. This is bound to change in the future.
Cognitive impairment–due to stress, age, and various environmental factors–prevents us from making informed decisions. Shortly, the AI voice assistant could provide us with data-driven advice and recommendations after analysing and accessing reports and learnings of psychologists, therapists, and counsellors across the globe.
Another example could be virtual career counseling. Exploring our environment, habits, interests, approach, and behaviour and mapping them against career opportunities and market trends, the voice assistant could provide unbiased career advice. These guided, data-driven explorations would make the voice assistant a part of our system without prejudice–recognising multi-lingual speech, accent, voice modulation, slang, etc.
Machine learning will make interaction human-like. Virtual assistants will talk to us, provide companionship, and be a one-stop solution for most of our problems.
Smart speakers will also eventually evolve with respect to form factors to match our taste and personality and offer advanced features and benefits, viz. improved sound quality, lightweight, higher battery life, and fashion-forward form factors built with sustainable material.
The voice assistant has immense benefits. At the same time, let’s remember how machine learning, with time, can improvise and improve its adaptability and competency to become more human-like. Talking to a voice assistant regularly could put us in a bubble, ultimately altering reality, which could challenge the basic fabric of our civil society. AI or individuals could tailor and manipulate political campaigns by uploading misinformation. This can increase frustration, dent relationships, and create social enmity.
Therefore, it is important to frame strict policies on how AI uses algorithms to come to conclusions and have regulations and provisions to check and override AI as and when appropriate.
As we move into a new era, we must take advantage of technology and make the most of it. All technology comes with risks, but with proper safeguards in place, the voice assistant will give us access to many resources.
The author is General Manager, Consumer Division, Alphatec, distributor of professional and personal AV equipment and integrated audio-video solutions.
Edited by Swetha Kannan
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)