Rise Of The Voice Activated Digital Assistant

I have been a fan of Star Trek for as long as I can remember.  I would watch syndicated re-runs of the original series whenever I could find them.  To be honest, what clenched it for me was Wrath of Kahn. It is my favorite Star Trek movie.  I also fell in love with the futuristic technology.  The sheer level of automation always set my imagination ablaze.  Between Siri, Cortana, and IoT I almost feel like I am living the fantasy.

When Siri was first announced and subsequently released I was extremely excited.  That excitement was short-lived as the first iteration of Siri.  She was little more than a novelty.  As Apple continued to improve the iOS devices and connect Siri to more resources and information she became far more helpful.  I hop in my car and plug my iPhone into the charger so I can speak to Siri hands free.  I ask Siri for directions for my destination and we are off.  I use Siri to find restaurants and make appointments.  I ask her to remind me to do things.  It amazes me how often I actually use the little gal.  She is virtually trapped though living only in my iOS device.  Some of my information will follow me to other iOS devices and even my PC, but what Siri knows about me seems to be lost.  This is a 1 up Cortana has on Siri.  Cortana learns about you and saves that information in your cloud and whatever device you are connected to she remembers you.  Just like Siri, I can ask Cortana to perform tasks for me.  Make appointments, take notes, find information, and much more.  By many accounts Cortana’s speech recognition and natural language recognition also out performs Siri.  I can attest that Siri does still stumble frequently when I am talking to her, which can be frustrating sometimes.  She is getting better though.

Apple extended the potential of Siri not too long ago by releasing a new API called Home Kit.  Home Kit allows software developers to leverage Siri for interaction with their iOS apps.  I recently came across a new smart plug from iHome that allows you to use Siri to turn on or off a device like a lamp that is plugged into the Smart Plug.  Say “Hey Siri, turn on the Living room Lamp,” and on pops the lamp.  Cool, huh.  Cortana isn’t one to be left out of the party.  Microsoft has always supported developers by allowing them to leverage Microsoft technology, and Cortana is no different.  The commands Cortana understands can be extended to add voice automation to Windows 10 apps opening up the same potential Home Kit has opened up for Siri.

What makes this so exciting is the new era of connected devices known as the Internet of Things or IoT.  Imagine your oven is connected to this internet of things.  The developer has leveraged your personal cloud along with Siri or Cortana.  You are driving home and you need to get some chicken nuggets in the oven before the kids go to soccer practice.  There is no time to waste waiting for the oven to preheat so you tell Siri to heat the oven to 350°.  The oven is ready for you to pop the nuggets right in when you walk in the door.  What about security? Doors can be smart and connect to the IoT as well.  Little Billy walked home from school, but he forgot his key to get in the house so he rings the doorbell.  You are stuck in the office when you get a notification that someone is at the door.  The notification comes with a snap shot from a camera on the porch, and there’s Billy looking dismayed that he can’t get in the house.  Ask Cortana to unlock the front door for you.  You watch Billy go inside from the live internet stream from the “porch cam” and tell Cortana to lock the front door once Billy is safely inside.

There are limitless applications for interacting with IoT devices because literally anything can be connected.  All of these actions could have also been accomplished through the use of an app with screens and buttons, but speech is a more natural way of interacting and in most cases much faster to learn.  As these digital assistants are given access to more types of information and the software is trained to better understand more commands in the context of natural speech they will become far more ubiquitous in our daily life.  Soon I will be able to walk into my kitchen and say, “Cortana, tea, Earl Grey, hot” and have a fresh hot cup of tea dispensed on the spot just like Capt. Piccard.  If only Majel Barrett-Roddenberry was still around to lend her voice to my favorite digital assistant I would be one happy geek!  Live long and prosper…Cortana, end transmission.

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