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