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The Internet of Things: Voice-Activated Control Devices
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The Internet of Things: Voice-Activated Control Devices - Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: Voice-Activated Control Devices

Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: Voice-Activated Control Devices

In the days following the holiday season, it was fun to listen to people describe Amazon’s Echo, the voice-controlled device that many people found beneath their trees last year. Some recipients didn’t go past its streaming music capabilities, or its functionality as a wireless speaker. Others mentioned its ability to respond to questions with information, a kind of Siri for the whole family, or its use as a personal digital assistant. Echo’s television commercials didn’t help: many people were left to ask, “What in the world is that?” after viewing them. Yet despite the confusion, Echo’s seeming ability to defy description is one of the reasons it’s worth paying attention to. It is the first widely available, consumer-level product to make its way into homes specifically for the purpose of linking to smart devices across their vast and growing spectrum. Add Amazon’s built-in marketplace of goods and media services and an accessible price of $179, and it’s impossible to ignore the enormous foot Amazon has gotten literally inside the door.

With built-in connectivity to a number of streaming media services such as Spotify, Pandora, ESPN, NPR, and its own Amazon Music, Echo delivers content wirelessly, through voice activation. Its compatibility with smart home systems lets you speak commands to lower the heat, lock the doors, turn down the lights, and activate the security system. Its ability to link to mobile apps on a tablet or smartphone means countless possibilities for third-party updates on information of personal interest, including shopping lists, appointments, and scheduled events. And specific connectivity to ride-sharing services, ticket-buying services, and delivery services means hands-free consumerism extending beyond the confines of home, although many purchases require confirmation online via mobile device or computer, something of a safety and a hindrance.

Because it has wriggled itself quickly into a large number of homes, Echo takes the early lead in the standardization of all this smart connectivity. Smart device manufacturers will be pressed to make Echo compatibility a priority as potential buyers seek products that will work with devices they already own. Yet there is already competition on the near horizon, including products with lower prices (such as Ivee at $100), built-in brand loyalty and cachet (such as Apple TV, a streaming device, or Google OnHub, a router), open source development (such as Mycroft), and strictly-through-PC voice control (such as HAL, whose basic software is free).

Although we’ve said it before, it’s worth repeating that each new device, operating system, or service that connects to your life and to the other devices, systems, and services adds another crevice of vulnerability for personal safety and security. Your safety is only as reliable as its weakest link, and this multitude of access points to your information and privacy is begging people with malicious or mischievous intent to take a shot. It’s not sexy to put security concerns and safeguards in a thirty-second television commercial, but as the consumer, it’s critical to make an effort to pay attention to it all.

As our lives become more integrated, there’s a lot of promise not only for convenience and consumerism, but for important quality of life issues as well. For many of us, the ability to turn the lights on with a simple voice command is a luxury; for others, it can make a difference in living independently, or at living with decreased strain on caregivers. Voice-controlled centers of smart home operation have the chance to be more than gimmicky gadgetry: they can become a critical piece of our lifestyles, and the frontier is still largely unexplored. Early adopters and toe-dippers alike should find the land-grab an interesting and meaningful development to keep an eye on.


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The Internet of Things: Voice-Activated Control Devices - Executive Leadership Articles

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