talk to me

Dig­i­tal PAS are here – and they’re as life-chang­ing as we had hoped.

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

Since launch­ing in 2014, Ama­zon’s Alexa has steadily been rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing tech­savvy fam­i­lies’ homes via her voice-con­trolled de­vice Echo. She’ll sit on your bench­top in her un­ob­tru­sive guise, a tall and slim black (or white) Blue­tooth speaker that prom­ises to an­swer your most search­ing queries with the use of a “wake” word, which by de­fault is her name. She’ll play you a tune on re­quest from your Ama­zon Mu­sic, Spo­tify, Pan­dora, iheartra­dio or Tunein ac­count (“Alexa, play The Weeknd”). She’ll up­date you on the head­lines or chance of rain, check the sta­tus of traf­fic on your work com­mute, find you a flight or ho­tel and let you know what’s com­ing up on your cal­en­dar. She’s also clever enough to con­nect to cer­tain smart home de­vices such as lights, garage doors and ther­mostats.

With her abil­ity to tell a corny joke and her seem­ingly bot­tom­less pit of fun facts, she’s prob­a­bly bond­ing most closely with the younger mem­bers of the house­hold. Ama­zon says the Echo and its hockey puck-like lit­tle sis­ter, the Echo Dot, were its best­selling prod­ucts this past Christ­mas, so much so they had trou­ble keep­ing them in stock. World­wide, sales were re­port­edly up nine times since 2015, and that in­cludes Aus­tralia where the product is yet to be of­fi­cially re­leased. If you caught the vi­ral home video of the US tod­dler in­no­cently ask­ing Alexa to play a song only to be an­swered with a list of X-rated porn terms (“Stop, Alexa!”), you’ll un­der­stand the fam­ily hi­jinx that en­sued.

“There’s still a way to go yet,” says The Gad­get Group’s tech whiz Valens Quinn about Alexa and her group of con­tem­po­raries – Mi­crosoft’s Cor­tana, Google’s no­tably name­less “Ok Google” and, of course, Ap­ple’s faith­ful friend Siri. “But the tech­nol­ogy is get­ting bet­ter. In the short term, vir­tual as­sis­tants will get bet­ter at lis­ten­ing, bet­ter at un­der­stand­ing and link­ing to more things that we’re do­ing now on­line any­way. The huge amount of data they are col­lect­ing on us, like where we go, when we do things, what we ask for, what we like, who our part­ners are and what they like, can be an­a­lysed and used to pat­tern match to an­tic­i­pate what we want.”

And be­cause Alexa lives in the cloud, she’ll only con­tinue to get smarter. Quinn says Alexa and friends could ef­fec­tively be­come so so­phis­ti­cated that they may ri­val a hu­man as­sis­tant within a mat­ter of five years. “Ap­ple has opened up Siri to third-party de­vel­op­ers, so now you can say, ‘Hey, Siri, book me an Uber.’ The same is hap­pen­ing with Google and Ama­zon as well, so the abil­ity for the vir­tual as­sis­tant to ac­tu­ally hook into other on­line ser­vices that you use is the next step. It’s hap­pen­ing now.”

As soon as this year, you’ll no longer need to wave Alexa a heart­felt good­bye be­fore clos­ing the front door. The Wynn Las Ve­gas is in the process of out­fit­ting all 4,748 guest rooms with an Echo, al­low­ing vis­i­tors to con­trol lights, tem­per­a­ture and cur­tains with vo­cal com­mands, with a vi­sion for the soft­ware to have the ca­pa­bil­ity to help guests plan their day in the near fu­ture. 2017 will also re­port­edly see Alexa rid­ing shot­gun in cer­tain makes of cars.

Co-founder of Matches Fashion Tom Chap­man (who has an Echo perched at home and in the of­fice) says that in no time, on­line re­tail, too, will func­tion en­tirely by voice-op­er­ated com­mand. “We have to look at search as one of our chal­lenges. It’s not about typ­ing a term in, it’s go­ing to be about peo­ple say­ing, ‘Show me the Mc­queen dress in lace.’” Time, he says, or lack thereof, is the com­mod­ity for sale.

So be­fore too long, your pseudo per­sonal as­sis­tant will not only be able to find you a flight for that long week­end away but sug­gest where you’d most like to go

and cu­rate the wardrobe to pack, too. There’s just one thing bug­ging us. Is it a co­in­ci­dence that th­ese tech­nolo­gies, for the most part, an­swer to women’s names? In 2017, we’re think­ing it might be re­fresh­ing to see a new world or­der where women aren’t the ones typ­i­cally rel­e­gated to ad­min­is­tra­tive roles. We’re sure we’d like to see an Adam, Si­mon or Con­nor perched on the end of our bench, too.

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