|Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash|
Last month I wrote about one aspect that "we" have not looked into enough - privacy.
“I think it will make for a perfect alarm clock” Trusted Reviews - Amazon Echo SpotHere it looks like part of the problem with technology is the uncritical approach of what could go wrong, in building and selling. There is no mention of privacy concerns apart from throw away comment about a "mute" feature. As well as the obvious issue of an internet connect camera in our bedrooms. I have been thinking about other issues related to a mindset used to personal in more common use areas. So I have done some digging into people's opinions of the challenges technologists need to solve.
What voice assistants give usBut before I start looking at that, here are some of the good things these products give us:
- Timers when we have our hands full, great for cooking!
- "Routines" on Alexa can be used to create really personal alarm clocks - surprised smartphones haven't had these for years
- Control over music
This is what we are trading for the areas of concern below. With 15% feeling that nothing needed changing, and a further 9% wanting more access to these assistants on the move! Which could be done to where people are in their stage of life? And what they perceive that they have to lose. One of the qualitative responses that I received suggested this could be a factor:
"I'm at that age were I'm not particularly bothered. In fact, I'm probably boring them rigid with my timers, alarms and reminders." Mark on Ipsos i-Say
Two quotes that sum up the responses of the 41% people worried about privacy I got were:
"It’s a government listening device" Ben via Facebook
"... just like all the new 'smart' products like TVs, Meters, fridges etc they all made for spying on us 👎🏽😣" veganpanda on ipsos i-Say
This is wild speculation, but I imagine the main use case used in tested against is adults. Either in a close relationship living together or single people home alone.
The other thing to think about is that you don't always know Alexa is there - is she in that speaker? Or maybe that lamp? We are moving towards a connect world. Are you happy with the privacy considerations as they are?
SecurityTo sum up the 35% of responders who voted for security:
"There are too many risks the devices can be hacked" - Marmum63 on ipsos i-Say
This is very like the above two cases. Most people I know disabled the voice ordering shopping option as soon as the devices are setup. Since the first thing most people do the first time they visit someone with an Echo is to order something bizarre.
The other aspect is that you are giving one, maybe two or more corporations access to you home. Constantly listening (and maybe watching). With very sensitive microphones connected to the internet - what could go wrong?
Lots of people - me included - find this technology really cool. And the companies that make them are in relatively liberal democracies where the rule of law is valued. But what if that isn't the case in the future? What about these devices being used in countries that already look to control the population with technology?
The family experience
One of the interesting quotes on its suitability came from Facebook:
"I wrote a skill called School Run to help make sure everything gets done. Was planning on entering a competition. But we tried it and it was a hideous experience for the whole family. I think voice tech has a place but maybe not in the home. " Neil (another one!) on Facebookand another on the downside of giving digital assistants human personas
"We changed ours to respond to 'computer' because I didn't like the way it made it fell like having a servant called Alexa." Helen on Facebook
Another issue with the common use aspect, which I've experienced, are recommendations. They work brilliantly when you log into a website on a device that you control to use the way that you want. But if I use my wife's Echo connected to her Spotify to play songs that only I like. Then it starts to devalue those recommendations to her. Likewise with YouTube on the Firestick. I use it to watch music videos or travel industry related conference feeds. Yet because one of my nephews likes Peppa Pig I get many more recommendations based on that!
ConclusionI remain cautiously optimistic about the promise of smart assistants and breaking free of screens and keyboards. But it is still very early days. It feels like we are in the era of PC voice dictation software. Or the early internet enabled phones that used Java apps and WAP pages. That's to say the current crop of voice assistants, which don't need training to understand you, and capabilities of native apps on smartphone now are an order of magnitude better.
What it took to get here was to create new ways of thinking and working with products suited to these devices. Not to copy from the desktop paradigms and local processing. The voice processing for Alexa benefits from having vast amounts of data in the cloud. alongside a feedback mechanism from the users that makes my copy of Dragon Dictate in 2000 look like a toy.
We are still very much find our way as an industry in the privacy and ethical challenges that common use devices over personal ones provide. We need another leap in technology to detect who not only what is being said. If we solve these then we will have a brilliant benefit for easing the friction of using technology. For example, checking flight information in a natural way.
- New car destroyed in four hours after driver didn't read handbook - Example of how user behaviour can lag behind technology (and overestimate its abilities)
- Alexa Takes the Stand: Listening Devices Raise Privacy Issues
- Alexa? The NSA? Americans are afraid of digital assistants spying on them
- Can Mycroft’s Privacy-Centric Voice Assistant Take On Alexa And Google?
- Move over GUI, now's the time for the Intelligent User Interface
- Digital deception: We 'love' using our devices and it's making us miserable
- [video] Two year old has an argument with Amazon Alexa
- [video] Italian grandmother learning to use Google home
A one question poll hosted on ipsos i-say. This surveyed UK adults in as close a random sample as I could get. I chose this over a Twitter poll due that more varied sample as my followers have a heavy industry bias - UX people, Product Managers, and developers. At time of writing this received 208 responses. The question posed was:
What worries you about voice assistants? (e.g. Alexa, Google Home, Siri, or Cortana)
With the description:
With everything seemingly getting voice assistants from lamps to speakers, what worries you the most about having all these devices listening and watching us in our homes?
With apologies to HBX's Professor Janice Hammond on the question design! I took a decision for an opinionated question based on my review of mainstream reviews of these devices. I hoped that this would lead to thinking more about the downsides. It had the following options as responses:
- Nothing, I'd even like to take it on the road!
- Nothing Happy with the way things work now
- (the ability to add another response)
For more qualitative replies I also posted on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter:
Anybody got some good stories about Alexa or Google home type voice assistants? Things you didn’t expect it to do? Ways children have confused it? Or it has affected recommendations from other services that you use? Worries about privacy?