Voice Control Will Make the Internet of Things Very Chatty

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2016-06-02 Print this article Print
Voice-Activated IoT

By saying "Hello, Thermostat," you activate the device's listening mode. You can give it natural language commands such as, "Make it warmer," or, "Turn down the temperature by 3 degrees." You can even describe your own temperature, as in, "I feel cold," and the thermostat will turn up the heat.

Talk to Your Sound System

Sonos makes great WiFi-connected, smartphone app-controlled speakers. Recently, the company decided to transform its future line of speakers into Amazon Echo-like virtual assistant connected speakers, so you can talk to your speakers and have them talk back.

The move may be a response to Amazon's development of the Amazon Dot, which is an Echo-like appliance designed to work with third-party speakers, including Sonos products.

In the wake of Sonos' announcement, wireless audio and home entertainment equipment maker D&M Group promised something similar. Within a few years, I expect all major home sound systems to offer voice control.

Talk to Your Drone

A drone called the Flypro is taking off on Kickstarter and leading the industry in innovative drone interfaces. The Flypro's XEagle camera drone line includes voice control, among other features.

The drone comes with a dedicated controller wristwatch. By speaking commands into the watch, you control the drone. For example, you can say, "Flypro, take off," and, "Flypro, follow me," according to the company's online video.

This product is a great example of how intelligence enables a voice-command interface. You wouldn't be able to fly a drone by voice commands unless the drone was capable of taking off, hovering, avoiding obstacles and following you around while recording you on video by itself.

People Will Talk

The voice control revolution will be driven by the IoT and AI revolutions, and the social implications of this transition to voice interfaces will be enormous.

Children born today will never have to use their hands to use a computer. Novice computer users will be a thing of the past, because no knowledge will be required to use electronic devices.

The need for reading will decline when we can listen to our books, magazines and Internet posts and talk to food containers and pill bottles. Some will question the need for the skill of reading, just as today some wonder whether we need to teach handwriting.

Companies will struggle to figure out how to prevent a voice command intended for one device to be picked up by another. You could try to turn the garage light on but instead fire up the leaf blower.

There will be enormous security implications, too. While many devices will get person-recognition capabilities and only respond to the owner's voice, many will not. And a person's voice is easily spoofed or recorded.

Most AI commands will be processed in the cloud, which means the recordings of our voices will be uploaded and stored—possibly forever—on remote servers. This is already happening with Google, Amazon and other companies that offer virtual assistants.

As people get in the habit of using voice interfaces, it will be more difficult to keep our activities private because anyone within earshot will know what we're trying to do. A casual use of voice commands to book flights will alert those nearby that our homes will be empty while we're away. Business communication will be overheard.

One ironic development will be the decline of apps and the return of the command line interface. We'll be in the habit of talking as a way to make our computers and devices do things for us, but when we want to be quiet or private we'll type in those same commands.

At first, talking to objects and devices will be deemed generally socially unacceptable, just as people on the street talking to their smartphone via Bluetooth interfaces were looked upon with suspicion and, perhaps, pity. But then we'll adjust and accept it.

I think the spoken word interface will be the method by which we interact not only with our computers and phones, but also our everyday smart appliances.


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