Smart Speakers Are Changing Radio and the Web


Radio listeners are changing their habits, now they are talking to their audio appliances to listen to a station, get their news and even request a song.

Almost a year ago a video received millions of views all over the world. And it’s amazing. A lady tries to talk to a Google Home Mini speaker . He calls him “Goo-Goo” and shows himself impatient. He asks the device for the weather forecast and to play for her an Italian song with poor results. The lady in question is Arzilla but elderly, we can deduce that she has Italian-American origins and is in some way “scared”, as she admits, laughing at the younger relatives who are recovering her.

The smart speaker as Google Home are spreading extremely rapidly. Already before last summer according to 20% of the US population had at least one. They will reach 225 million units in two years, reports Canalys. For a market that Deloitte valued at $ 7 billion for 2019 . Not only that: the global advertising expenditure for voice assistants, which does not exist today, will reach the 19 billion dollars by 2022 according to Juniper Research . In 2018 these devices definitively attacked the market. Dozens of models from Sony , Panasonic , Hama , Huawei and other brands have arrived on our shelves , to which Apple has recently been added with its HomePod . To dominate the sector, are the lines of Google Home (two models) and Amazon Echo (four models), with prices ranging from 60 to 150 euros approximately. The differences between these products are not many: they are speakers more or less large and more or less finished, which should assist us in our everyday life. The world’s largest technology companies invest on a device designed to be placed in some corner of the living room or kitchen, which more than a futuristic object – or even a normal smartphone – remembers the old radio of the 40s and 50s?

To answer this question we immediately clarify a point. Although our attention tends to fall on the functionality and design of the smart speakers, much more important is that they contain: artificial intelligences capable of interacting with people in the flesh. Those who inhabit Google Home and Echo are called Assistant and Alexa , have their own voice and are designed to recognize that of their “master” and execute the commands. Type: tell me how the weather is today, turn off the light, put the alarm on the hour X, give me information on the topic Y, play the song Z, and so on. The voice assistants , as they are called, do not listen to us only through the home speakers but also through mobile phones. Assistant, active on Google Home models and on all devices with Android operating system, is the demonstration together with Siri , the Apple-branded counterpart. And they are not the only ones: Microsoft has Cortana , Samsung can count on Bixby , Huawei is working to import from China its Xiaoyi . They are more and more numerous and more and more users are using them. It may seem absurd, but the so-called next big thing could just be the voice . The same that at the time of the radio revolutionized the communication but with a different function, because now the user, instead of receiving a message, gives a precise command. In other words, a conversation is established from which information on our account is derived.

If the penetration of smartphones into our everyday life is complete, that of the voice is still in its infancy, but it is rapidly advancing. The vocal assistants today can allow us to take our eyes off the screens, to emancipate ourselves from the touch screen , not to interrupt what we are doing, especially when we are on the move. The Apple AirPods go in this direction: they eliminate the material link with the mobile phone. But there is a place where the potential of the smartphone is only partially expressed: the home. The reasons are essentially three: 1) many of the functions of the smartphone, including the voice assistant. 2) From PC to stereo systems , at home there are better devices to meet particular needs. 3) The smartphone is always with us but a part of domestic life in some way regardless of the physical presence of an individual and this will be even more with the advent of the so-called smart home , in which new devices connected to each other they monitor the home in real time. These reasons are the same that today push giants hi-tech to invest on speakers that will stimulate interaction with voice assistants, will be the point of contact with smart devices and will follow moment by moment what happens in the home. Because in the age of the Internet and big data knowledge means business .

It is clear that Google is trying to make its search engine also vocal as well as written. And that Amazon points to allowing purchases through spoken commands. Why? Simply to make their service even faster and more pervasive. This radically changes a series of dynamics, such as search engine optimization (Seo, which serves to increase the probability that the search engine gives a certain result) and advertising. It is not difficult to imagine that one day Google can make someone say something more to those who offer more. The difference is that, due to the absence of other results that appear simultaneously and visual elements of “distraction”, the relevance of the vocal insertion is superior.

We are facing a paradox : with the voice assistants we more actively address our questions (and our commands), but receive a smaller number of answers. Precisely for this reason, the vocal web will have a greater influence on users than that of the textual web. Because he will learn to understand us better by listening to us. Every time we ask a question, and Assistant Alexa record something about us and cataloged for profilarci . Putting together all the data collected and joining those that we sow every day with our online activities, will always know better which information may be more relevant to interests, tastes and inclinations of a user.

Now if we take what is worth for a single user and multiply it by millions of people, it is clear that entertaining conversations will allow us to build exterminated databases to understand our language and how our mind works. What is needed to perfect a software giving it better semantic understanding and self-learning skills. Behind the well-made speakers, the friendly names of virtual assistants and the gags that arise from their gross errors, there is the great deal of artificial intelligence, whose development can not be separated from the voice. From the Italian grandmother who can not talk with Google Home we could get to the Joaquin Phoenix who falls in love with his assistant in the film Her . The road is still long, of course, and the various assistants still have much to learn. But let’s not forget that history repeats itself: as happened 20 years ago with search engines, 10 years ago with social media and today with cloud computing , big companies are building an infrastructure . Users will mainly fill it with their conversations. So it will be time to monetize with advertising, percentages withheld on purchases and other options that maybe we struggle to imagine today.

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