The great promise and peril of voice control

The world is about to come alive with computing, unless eavesdropping kills the promise first.

voice control

The Future of Voice Control:

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I have a bone to pick with my refrigerator. And my dishwasher. And my washing machine.

The problem is, I can’t talk to any of them. At least not yet. It’s kind of annoying.

Once you get used to talking to your various appliances, it’s amazing how noticeable the ones without voice-recognition functions become – and how dated they seem. And I have gotten used to talking to things – to my phone, my TV and my Google Home speaker, which controls my lights, music and daily schedule.

In a new feature for Maclean’s, I take a look at the voice-controlled near future, where artificially intelligent assistants including Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant help us manage everything from our coffee makers to our cars.

It’s going to be a huge paradigm shift, with voice control finally living up to its promise. It isn’t just about removing the need to push a button on a dishwasher, but rather about infusing the environment around us with computing power and then allowing us to easily access that capability.

We’re in something of a hybrid stage right now, where the computing embedded in homes, cars and even clothes is accessible and controllable, but only through a third-party device such as a smartphone. The intermediaries are about to be stripped out.

Not only will that give us easier access to all those smart devices, it’s also going to dramatically affect who can access them. People who have no idea how to interact with technology – and there are many of them – will finally be able to benefit from computing and networking power.

“You’re getting the point where the technology is becoming really good that we don’t necessarily need these keyboard and click menus to input our data,” says Nidhi Chappell, a senior director at Intel. “You can just speak and the machine will understand the context, then do something about it.”

Of course, there is always the potential downside, and we’ve seen some of it already. Whenever we generate data, someone is harvesting it, and it can always be used in ways we didn’t anticipate.

The FBI demanding Amazon turn over an Alexa user’s voice records is just the first stage of what is sure to be the next level of privacy clashes. Many people are wary of their entire environment eavesdropping on them. Few are going to willingly allow it to happen.

Trust in the companies that supply these products is thus going to be tested like never before.

“This is potentially an absolute game changer in this business. It can kill it dead,” says Paul Gray, principal analyst for IHS Markit. “It’s up there with your product not electrocuting or poisoning the consumer. If a product is seen as intrusive or spying… that is absolutely the concern.”

The voice-controlled future is doubtlessly one of great promise – and potential peril. Check out the full story for more.

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