The Importance of Voice Assistants in IoT Devices

Many of us have mixed feelings in regards to voice assistants. While their presence is quite welcome in a few areas, such as with GPS route guidance, sometimes we find these human replacements annoying, intrusive and of absolutely no help at all.

However, it really doesn’t matter whether we love or hate voice assistants. In the end they know they are the special forces behind IoT mass adoption. (Some of the AI humanoids might actually have that kind of cognitive awareness.)

Actroid, the smartest virtual assistant in the world developed in Osaka, Japan

Clearly, there are many roles voice assistants fulfill where human involvement is neither desirable nor necessary.

What Are Voice Assistants?

Voice assistants, by definition, are software agents which use voice recognition, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP) and speech synthesis. With these skills they offer guidance, support and thoughtful behaviors.

Voice assistants have a standard greeting also known as a “wake word”: for example, “Hey Alexa!”

These agents can control home automation, manage tasks based on verbal commands and play back rich media. Chatbots are the predecessors of voice assistants in some ways, a more primitive form of online interactions.

What Are the Types of Voice Assistants?

Many of us know voice agents from our interactions with Siri, Cortana, Alexa or Google Assistant. In fact, they are becoming quite ubiquitous these days.

What Voice Assistants will do in 2019

However, the actual number of voice assistants is quite huge. Here are a few of the others.

  • Samsung Bixby: Works with Samsung S Voice from Galaxy III onwards. It can control IoT devices, including Samsung electronic appliances.
  • Braina: Works on Windows computers and is far more capable of tasks Cortana was trained for.
  • Dragon Mobile Assistant: A sophisticated agent for completing your office tasks.

Why Voice Assistants Are Needed in IoT

Controlling devices using speech is absolutely important at every stage of IoT development. Voice assistants are a natural fit in various aspects of IoT management including with homes and industries.

But the biggest impact lies in controlling device updates on distant edge networks.

Distant “Edge” Networks

For example, the current strategy of managing updates in sprawling IoT networks is through a container-based microservices approach. Usually images are sent across for updates in edge or fog devices.

With custom-built voice assistants, IoT system admins can have a better handle on their overall networks.

In the healthcare industry, voice assistants can improve patient safety by reading labels, administering insulin and adjusting records. Currently, all healthcare apps such as MyFitnessPal use voice assistants to make people exercise regularly and manage their diet programs.

Healthcare apps and trackers

If you are working in mining and oil/gas industries, voice assistants already manage access control to sensitive plant areas

In retail, voice assistants can prevent stealing of merchandise. After all, compulsive shoplifters are more likely to pay attention to a stern voice rather than CCTV cameras.

Are Voice Interfaces More IoT-Friendly than Visuals?

According to a Gartner survey, people still prefer web browsing to voice. However, by 2020 voice is expected to command 30 percent of all browsing interactions.

In the realm of IoT, voice interactions may have more currency because of ease and convenience.

Ask yourself this question: would you rather manage your smart television or fridge with a mobile app or a simple voice command?

Smart TV

The same Gartner source above states that mobile apps may decline in popularity. It is not surprising any longer. After all, there are only so many apps you can fit in your phone without losing patience.

Wrapping Up

For many kinds of online interactions, voice agents offer a more advanced supporting role rather than text inputs or visuals.

Maybe it is because human beings prefer the company of other people. There is a certain element of interactivity and human touch in contextually aware AI virtual agents.

As they acquire character and depth thanks to machine learning and behavior analysis, virtual agents may cross the final frontier and become instrumental in every aspect of IoT.

What are your opinions of voice agents? Do you view them unfavorably? Let us know.

3 comments

  1. In theory, voice assistants are wonderful and helpful applications. However, in practice, because of their need to listen 24/7/365 for their wake-up phrase, they are nothing more that data harvesting and spying tools. It has been shown over and over that Google, Apple, Samsung and others are listening to their voice assistants and targeting ads at users based on what the assistants overhear.

    How is it going to be before the government’s alphabet agencies horn in on the action and listen in on their inhabitants 24/7/365?!

    1. Hi, thanks for raising a valid concern. I have an Alexa speaker but I don’t trust it right now. Totally with you there.

      But voice assistants are much more than what Apple, Microsoft, Google, Samsung or Amazon have to offer. They are fundamental user interaction modes which have been around since the 90s. You used to type on a keyboard, then came touchscreens. Now voice. It’s just a medium after all.

      As data encryption standards evolve, for example, with widespread WPA3 use, people will feel safer about their voice interactions. Check this recent article on WPA3, it should ease many of your security and privacy concerns.

      https://www.iottechtrends.com/wpa3-smart-devices-security-answer/

      Also Google (or DuckDuckGo) the Eclipse IoT project which is drawing widespread industry participation. It is fully open source.

      Universal standards are slowly but surely evolving in IoT, for example, the Fog-Edge (IIC) merger likely to take place this year.

      https://www.iottechtrends.com/will-fog-edge-networks-merge/

      Yes, I don’t trust Alexa at the moment. But that doesn’t mean that giving up on the fantastic potential of voice assistants.

      1. I value my security and privacy much more than I value my convenience.

        “voice assistants are……. fundamental user interaction modes which have been around since the 90s”
        I do not deny that fact. They are great in the public space where data harvesting and spying is of little concern. However, in the PRIVATE space of our abodes, companies too numerous to mention here (and well know to everybody) have made voice assistants into invaders bent on harvesting data and spying on our daily lives, The data harvesting and covert eavesdropping, if it was done by a government agency, would require a subpoena or a court order. Private companies are not encumbered by such legal trivialities; they can listen and harvest with impunity.

        “with widespread WPA3 use, people will feel safer about their voice interactions”
        Interesting that you should use the words “feel safer” rather than “be safer”. “Feel safer” implies that security is only illusory. “Be safer” declares that the security is real. First to make us “feel safer” was WEP. Then that was deprecated and along came WPA2 to make us “feel safer”. Now we have WPA3. It is supposed to make us “feel safer”. How long before that warm and fuzzy feeling of safety goes away?

        “it should ease many of your security and privacy concerns”
        It will not as long as Google, Apple, et al are listening to us 24/7/365.

        “Universal standards are slowly but surely evolving”
        Key word here is “slowly”. By the time these universal standards assuage the concerns of the Internet Age, we will be onto the next Age (whatever that may be), or the Age after that. Universal standards are falling farther and farther behind while our security and privacy are further being eroded every day.

        Internet of Things concept is great in theory but sucks big time in its implementation. It is analogous to what happened with the implementation of X-rays and atomic energy. After X-rays were first used in medicine, their usage spread willy-nilly everywhere. X-rays were used for everywhere, just as IoT is used today. Everything is being made Internet capable. Then it was slowly discovered that X-rays were not as safe as their proselytizers made them out to be. Only now, almost a century later, have the standards caught up to the technology. How many people got hurt along they way because of inappropriate standards? Now the pendulum is swinging to the other extreme. many people are against atomic energy in spite of the regulations in place. Are we going to have a similar backlash against IoT?

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