Not only is talking to voice-powered devices not weird, it’s the only way we’ll be computing in the near future.
That’s according to GV’s M.G. Siegler. Siegler — a general partner at Alphabet’s early-stage venture arm, GV (formerly Google Ventures) — who says the use of artificial intelligence-powered devices like Amazon Echo and Google Assistant are a sign of where things are headed in the tech industry.
While most of us might feel a bit strange and futuristic talking to a computer, especially one which learns over time and is almost definitely smarter than you, maybe we’re all just too set in our ways or — gasp — old-fashioned.
“I think it will take a while for us, people of our general age group, and certainly older generations as well,” Siegler told Business Insider. “But if you look at kids, if you’ve ever seen any video of a kid with an Amazon Echo, it’s like their favourite thing in the world, talking to Alexa.”
Siegler compared voice-powered computing to the rise of using mobile devices like computers. What originally started with a mainframe server later became a desktop computer, which led to the laptop, and eventually the mobile phone.
“We’ve been squeezed into this paradigm of computing that was a direct result of the technology at the time,” Siegler said. “These are all just constraints and they aren’t really a natural way.”
“It’s sort of weird to be typing and it’s sort of weird to be poking at a screen. How do we communicate with one another? We talk to each other and we listen,” he said.
While Siegler said talking to computers and using voice-powered devices is inevitable, investing in the technology is tricky.
“The key thing that we have think about on the investing side is that those types of things feel inevitable, but it’s always a question of timing,” he said. “Timing really matters when you’re trying to make an investment because obviously, you have to hit a certain window where something like that will be feasible on a large scale to become a good business.”
It’s not there yet — but it will be
GV’s parent company Alphabet is already betting heavily on the verbal computing space with its new hardware products. The company unveiled its Google Home device in October, the company’s first hardware device to incorporate its new digital Assistant. Much like Amazon’s Alexa, the Assistant responds to your voice and is powered by artificial intelligence. The Assistant is also available on Google’s new Pixel phone and Allo chat app.
Assistant follows in the footsteps of Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana, all of which are voice-powered personal assistants.
But one critique with all of the voice assistants — and Google’s in particular — is that activating them and speaking with them can be…creepy.
To activate the Assistant, you have to say “OK Google,” which Business Insider’s Dave Smith argued reminds users that you’re speaking to and sharing information with a massive corporation that’s storing your data.
Beyond the broader implications of using voice-powered devices, Siegler admits that the technology itself isn’t quite there yet — voice and image recognition is coming along, although it’s not perfect by a long shot. Siegler himself has created a “hack” using a Jawbone earpiece and his phone’s accessibility settings to have everything read aloud to him, whether it’s texts or news articles.
Still, the technology that’s currently available is a sign of progress and Siegler believes it’s time we start coming around to the idea that in the future, we might never need to touch our phones.
“Why is that weird?” he said. “It’s weird because it hasn’t been a normal thing for 50 years and it’s not what we generally think of. But that’s not to say that it won’t be the normal thing in 10 years, in 20 years.”