Siri, Google Now and Cortana are all names many of us are familiar with, the clever voice assistants that reside in our mobiles and tablets. When first introduced, these services were hailed as the future of user interaction with technology, but no such future has surfaced (other than using them to tell us jokes or remind us to buy milk). The revolution first seen in Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey in speaking to devices is yet to hit the mainstream, but it’s getting closer with a new device recently announced by Amazon: the Echo.
The Amazon Echo is essentially a Bluetooth and internet connected speaker with a voice assistant integrated into it. You can speak to it and ask it to do things, which it will then comply to. The Echo is always turned on and always listening to it’s default command word ‘Alexa’, a name which can of course be changed.
It is capable of playing music, telling you the latest news and weather, and reminding you about upcoming appointments in your calendar. It is always on and always connected via WiFi, meaning the Echo is constantly updated and aware of it’s surroundings.
Unlike other voice assistants, the Echo has been designed as an independent appliance, meaning the process of walking into a room, and asking ‘Alexa’ what you need is a far more natural exchange than having to hold down the home button on your iPhone and speaking into the phone to speak to Siri. The Echo uses a new technology Amazon call ‘Far-Field Recognition’ meaning that it can pick up what you’re saying from across a room, not requiring you to get close to it or shout for it to hear you.
The potential of bringing voice assistants to appliances in the home brings us closer to the concept of the smart and connected home, where you’ll be able to tell your oven to cook your meal or ask the television what’s coming up next. Amazon have currently released the Echo as invitation only in the USA, with a price of $200 (£126) for regular customers and $100 (£63) for those with Amazon Prime. Perhaps this really will be the start of the true AI revolution we’ve been promised for so long.