The significance of how quickly voice-activated technology has developed in the last couple of years is huge. Voice assistants have marked the beginning of AI becoming a part of our daily lives and not just a plot in sci-fi movies. However, as we welcome these assistants into our homes, it is important that we don’t disregard its implications.
Voice assistants are defined as artificially intelligent devices that listen to voice commands to help you perform tasks or other services. They first came into prominence with the release Apple’s Siri in 2011; however, they are now much more than just a mere feature on our phones. For instance, Amazon’s Alexa can be asked to do just about anything—from playing your favorite songs, making an online purchase, finding directions to a place, or just asking any random trivia-style question. Other notable voice assistants with the same functionality as Alexa include Window’s Cortana, Google Now, and the newly released Apple HomePod. In fact, the range of functions these devices are able to perform is so vast, the term “home assistants” is now often preferred.
Whether or not the average American has chosen to let these assistants into their homes (and pockets) the implications of their growth in popularity and intelligence are questionable. One must take into consideration the fact that these devices are always listening to see if you will call their name for a command. While they will only respond when called, they must always be “awake” and “aware,” which can be a huge concern for those who treasure their privacy. Although it is unknown if audio data is being collected through these devices, some people may be quick to jump to Orwellian conclusions. Additionally, there’s also the possibility of these devices being hacked by third parties, who could potentially steal our information and use it in dangerous, compromising ways.
In fact, there have already been stories of those who speak of certain items or brands in the presence of voice assistants and will find in moments upon browsing the internet an ad eerily related to the topic of conversations. This could certainly lead to many concerns. If social media already changes your feeds based on what you interact with and like, it’s not hard to imagine how voice assistants can feed into that. Just how companies track people’s interests in products through internet browsing, they could tap into audio conversations as well.
Following the same line of thought, it is also unknown how intelligent these voice assistants may become. After all, these devices are manufactured by the largest tech companies, so the idea that these devices could, somehow, be shaping our consumer habits to benefit these companies is not far-fetched.
While all these concerns are valid, the fact is that voice assistants are currently on their way to becoming another basic tool like a computer or a microwave in the majority of households. This technology is still relatively new, so the potential of voice assistants is, in a way, still untapped. Only time will tell if the benefits outweigh the possible risks.