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CES 2018: AI and voice assistants are good, but we first need better industry collaboration

While the battle for AI is heating up, the focus needs to shift to the consumer experience.

Amazon Echo Dot Alexa-Pixabay

Highlights

  • CES 2018 has become a battleground for Google and Amazon in the AI space

  • Smart speakers are expected to surpass the 50 million shipments mark in 2018

  • Brands are increasingly making third-party integrations for their AI assistants, but focus needs to be on consumer experience

“Hey, Google”, “Alexa”, “Hey, Cortana,” or “Hey, Siri”; the year 2018 is expected to see these commands gaining more popularity by the day. Digital assistants have existed for years, but with the internet of things gaining increased adaption, AI is not just responding to our banter, but also switching devices for us.

Google at CES

Center stage at this year’s CES is Google. Besides having an impactful presence at the expo, it’s also taking on Amazon heads-on with Google Assistant. It announced the integration of its voice-based assistant on a range of third-party devices such as new smart speakers by Altec Lansing and JBL, along with LG and Sony which have integrated the assistant into their televisions.

In comparison, Amazon Alexa now boasts over 7,000 skills and third-party integrations. The company announced new skills to its Alexa assistant along with interesting collaborations such as the one with Kohler for a smart bathroom mirror, which could potentially instruct your smart toilet to flush when you are done with the business!

The invasion of assistants

Alexa helped Amazon gain an edge in the digital assistant and home speaker segment, and also be the talking point at the CES event for two years in a row. However, the company now faces stiff competition from not only Google which has its own line of smart home speakers, but also others including Microsoft with its Cortana assistant and more recently Samsung with its Bixby assistant. Going forward, these assistants are set to invade gadgets beyond just your smartphone.

Amidst this development, there’s a visible discrepancy when it comes to the consumer experience. Today, if you prefer Alexa over Google Assistant, there’s no way you could instruct the more aesthetically pleasing Google Home to run one of Alexa’s skills. Similarly, if you want Alexa to play content from Google’s special services, you are in for hard luck as those are restricted to Google Home. Not all consumers have similar needs and not all smart devices can deliver all the skills, and restricting users to a specific platform or suite of services would mean limiting growth in the initial phase itself.

Industry outlook for AI

According to Canalys, smart speakers are expected to surpass the 50 million shipments mark in 2018. At the heart of these speakers is an artificially intelligent voice-controlled digital assistant. Gartner research expects 80 percent of smartphones to have on-device AI capabilities by 2022. These capabilities would be far beyond just responding to questions.

When done right, these assistants will be able to pick words from your conversations and carry out tasks. For instance, if you happen to murmur in some corner of the house, “I have to do laundry today,” the speaker could set a reminder for you, or even turn on the connected washing machine without you having to especially deliver instructions.

AI can’t succeed without…

If AI-based assistants are to flourish, it’s imperative to encourage competition through third-party integrations and not force feed services to the consumers. But we also need a conducive environment where services, hardware, and platforms go hand in hand. In one instance, Google Assistant could be quicker in responding to your query while Alexa performs a skill more efficiently.

The idea is to not solely focus on first-party hardware and services, but have partnerships with device makers as well as voice assistant developers to deliver a package which matters to the masses. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, with other manufacturers, could help create a powerful platform for digital assistants to thrive, where they leverage each others’ potentials to deliver a better consumer experience and not limit themselves to a particular platform or assistant. As consumers, we should have the freedom to use the voice assistant of our choice, with the hardware we choose. The focus needs to be on enhanced consumer experience than building products which are incomplete in nature.

  • Published Date: January 10, 2018 3:11 PM IST
  • Updated Date: January 10, 2018 3:30 PM IST