Magic mirror on the wall, tell me the news, then make a call
I love Alexa. Just to be clear, I’m talking about Amazon’s Digital Assistant, the one that lives in the Amazon Echo smart speaker. We have four Echos around our house here in California, and the whole family uses Alexa. Just yesterday evening, each member of my family used Alexa at least once:
- I played a podcast and checked the weather next week in Tampa, the location of my next business trip
- My husband set a timer for dinner in the oven and listened to the news
- My older son taught Alexa a little Finnish using the new Cleo skill
- My younger son played music and had Alexa read him a couple of bedtime stories (for the record, my husband and I were there for the stories, too – we haven’t completely outsourced our parenting duties)
While voice recognition assistants like Alexa haven’t yet spread across the globe, the speed at which they’re being taken up in the US suggests that they will take the world by storm as soon as they speak more languages and are integrated with more local services.
In fact, some of the large global communication service providers (CSPs) are seizing this opportunity to be the provider of digital assistant smart speakers in non-English languages, since Alexa-like devices are turning out to be the natural home IoT hub that most easily unifies all other IoT device management. Operators like SKT and KT in South Korea have had products like this out for a while (you don’t have to speak Korean to be able to understand this video about KT’s Giga Genie), and Deutsche Telekom’s soon-to-be-released Magenta smart speaker will not only offer a partnership with Alexa, but will also address common privacy concerns by only holding recorded data for 30 days, instead of forever as Amazon does.
So if you live in a part of the world where these smart speakers aren’t yet available, don’t worry, they will be soon. But – these standalone smart speakers are just the beginning. At the Consumer Electronic Show in January, the American faucet company Kohler won an innovation prize for their Verdera bathroom mirror that has Alexa built into it. While this might sound silly at first, it’s not – I myself use Alexa the most in the morning as I’m getting ready for the day (News! Weather! Music! Traffic!), and the bathroom mirror is the perfect piece of furniture in which to locate a smart speaker that is an integral part of your morning routine.
This integration with the home environment is hugely significant. While digital assistants may be located in standalone speakers today, this Kohler move is the first sign that in the future, our assistants will simply be integrated into the world around us, particularly in the environments over which we have control, such as the home and the car. Think back to when electricity and telephone lines were added to pre-existing houses when they first became available, then later built into the fabric of new houses as both services became more common. That’s what we’re going to see with Alexa and her kind as they become a standard service, pre-installed in the homes and cars of our future, ready to connect us to information and services with a few simple syllables.
But humor me while I share an even more intriguing vision for the future. In a completely unrelated development, the company Zoolingua is using Machine Learning to decipher the vocal and body communications of dogs so that we can understand them. They arose as a company from a project at the University of Northern Arizona that applied Machine Learning to wild prairie dog vocalizations and discovered that 1) We could indeed learn what prairie dogs were “saying” with Machine Learning, and 2) Prairie dogs were conveying much more information than anyone imagined, including specific shirt colors worn by the humans that they were seeing. Buoyed by this success, Zoolingua is now tackling the job of understanding what dogs are really trying to tell us with their barking and body language.
So let’s now put these two things together. Smart speakers with voice interaction integrated into our homes (and cars), plus animal deciphering services, equals a digital assistant that can tell you what your pet may be saying. I mean, why not? And why not use the digital assistant to speak back to your dog as well?
This is only in my imagination running wild– as far as I know, Zoolingua and the smart speaker companies aren’t connected in any way. But – you can see it, can’t you? And as the saying goes: “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it…”1
What’s clear from this little imaginary journey into the future is that cool standalone innovations of today are going to gain in power and scope as they become united with other innovations to provide services and knowledge about the world around us - beyond what is available or even imaginable to us today. And all of this will require connectivity and analysis in the cloud or the network edge (but I hope you had spotted that already).
In the meantime, I encourage you to learn what Nokia Multi-Access Edge Computing is all about and read more about innovations that can help CSPs use the Cloud to boost capacity, automate processes, and get more from your network.
Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia and @nokianetworks using #connectivity #machinelearning #IoT #MEC #Cloud #5G
1William Arthur Ward