A layperson’s exploration of all things voice

Monthly Archives: May 2019

May 31, 2019

A “Genderless” Voice? Is That Possible?

Recently, I blogged about your ability – or inability in some cases – the change the gender of your voice assistant. This “Wired” article notes that a group of linguists, technologists, and sound designers — led by Copenhagen Pride and Vice’s creative agency Virtue — are trying to create a genderless digital voice, made from real voices, that they call “Q.” Here’s an excerpt from the article (also see this NPR piece):

The project is confronting a new digital universe fraught with problems. It’s no accident that Siri and Cortana and Alexa all have female voices — research shows that users react more positively to them than they would to a male voice. But as designers make that choice, they run the risk of reinforcing gender stereotypes: that female voice assistants should be helpful & caring, while machines like security robots should have a male voice to telegraph authority.

While this isn’t the first attempt to craft a gender-neutral voice, with Q, the thinking goes, we can not only make technology more inclusive but also use that technology to spark conversation on social issues.

May 29, 2019

Trivia Games on Voice: 11 to Try

One of the natural fits with voice are trivia games. You can play by yourself or with friends. Here’s a list of some of the more popular:

1. Jeopardy – The long-running TV show has a variety of voice spin-offs: regular, teen, sports.

2. Three Questions – There are thousands of questions available but you are fed three at a time. You earn points for correct answers – with the possibility of earning a spot on the leaderboard.

3. Question of the Day – You get thrown one question per day.

4. Drivetime – My personal favorite is a mobile app, not a skill. But it’s voice-enabled. I reviewed it a few months ago.

5. Movie Challenge – You hear movie clips and guess what movie they’re from. You can play solo or in teams. “I’ll be back.”

6. Song Quiz – You hear song clips and guess the artist & song title.

7. Beat the Intro – You hear song clips and guess artist & song title. You can play by yourself or in team mode.

8. Trivial Pursuit Tap – Yep, it’s from Hasbro. Six categories of questions as you compete against friends.

9. Official Harry Potter Quiz – For those that can’t get enough of Harry Potter. Three new questions daily – you play by yourself.

10. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Like the TV show. There are 15 new questions daily – you play by yourself.

11. Twenty Questions – Not technically trivia, as you are essentially providing the trivia for Alexa to guess.

May 22, 2019

What is Voice Used For? Depends on the Surface

This “voicebot.ai” article has a great chart showing the different ways that smart speakers are being used. This excerpted insight is particularly interesting:

Many people have suggested that voice really needs a killer app to succeed. The premise behind that sentiment is flawed because it assumes voice is one thing. Voice assistants can help with a wide variety of use cases and be used across multiple device surfaces. What we are likely to see is a series of killer apps some of which may be localized to a particular surface. For example, voice interactive navigation may be a killer app for the car, but only a minor benefit for smart speakers and inconsistently used on mobile. You can learn more about voice assistant use on other surfaces in the Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report from late 2018 and the In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report from 2019.

Smart speaker adoption is so strong because it already has a killer app trio with listening to music as the foundation. There is little doubt that convenience for getting weather information and answers to questions is valued by consumers. You can see it clearly in their behavior. However, it is unclear whether these features alone have driven smart speaker adoption. Music listening is different because it fills a voice left by the disappearance of radios and stereo systems in many households. And, music listening through streaming services and the radio are both among the top six smart speaker use cases. Far-field voice recognition paired with music and other audio services are an ideal match of form and function.

I agree with the commentary that follows this excerpt about how third-party skills offer users many more options to use voice – but that these skills have a discovery problem. Many owners of smart speakers simply don’t know they have access to these skills – or haven’t spent the time looking for the right ones for them. We will see how that changes over time…

May 21, 2019

Voice Search Looks to the Web for Answers Last (Which Really Means Voice Matters)

Here’s a note from Scot Westwater of Pragmatic Digital: Do you or your company spend any money on SEO/SEM? If so, you need to read this. By 2020, 50% of all searches will be conducted with voice. While impressive, you’ve likely heard that stat before. But what you probably haven’t heard is the following – there are three places that your voice assistant looks to find the answer to your question:

1. The Alexa (or Google Home) Database
2. The Voice Web (Alexa Skills or Google Actions)
3. Web Search

First, the voice assistant looks internally to see if it knows the answer (think weather, time or traffic). If the device can’t find the answer internally, it looks through existing skills to see if they know the answer. If there are no skills with an accurate answer, it finally looks at the Web.

What does this mean? No matter how much you optimize your Web content to accommodate voice, if a competitor creates a skill with answers to the questions that your customers ask, their answer will show up. This is your opportunity to own the answer(s) for your entire industry.

There’s a catch. You have to invest in voice now to ensure you show up when your customers ask questions about your industry. If you want to own the answers for your industry, reach out to Scot to find out more.

May 20, 2019

Accessing Alexa in the Car

Last Fall, Amazon announced they would be coming out with the “Echo Auto” – so that you could access Alexa in your car. A few months later, a few customers actually received the device at a discounted rate – and now it’s widely available for $50. You can just lay it down on the seat next to you or mount it into your dashboard. It’s smaller than an Echo Dot. Here’s a 4-minute video with some common questions answered (egs. need to plug it in & Android phone with bluetooth capability; don’t need an Internet connection):

May 16, 2019

Will Alexa Be Able to Tell What Mood You’re In?

At this year’s “Alexa Conference,” Bret Kinsella of “voicebot.ai” talked about potential advancements in voice assistants that blew my mind. He said that these assistants could become more sophisticated – evolving from “undifferentiated” to “adaptive” interactions.

What this means is that the voice assistant might be able to discern what mood you’re in when you ask a question. And the type of response from the voice assistant would match that mood. For example, if you’re in a bad mood, the answer from Alexa will come back somber. If you’re in a good mood, you may get a joking response in return.

Think of the implications. Someone that truly listens to you. Wow…

May 15, 2019

How Different Industries Are Building Skills

Loved this interview by Bret Kinsella of “voicebot.ai” with Magic & Co’s CEO Ben Fisher. Ben really knows his stuff and since Magic & Co is a voice agency, he gets front-line exposure to a lot of the latest developments.

Here’s a few interesting things that I learned from Ben & Bret during the podcast:

1. Magic & Co. does work for clients besides voice work. The range of the client types is quite broad – from large traditional brands like Chobani & Bic, to famous musical artists, to utilities & hospitals. The way that they have initially used voice differs. For musical artists, some fans want to learn personal stuff – gain access to the “behind-the-scenes” action. In comparison, the opportunity for more staid entities like utilities can perhaps leverage voice to “gamify” cost-savings as communication between utilities & customers grows from the bare minimum that we have now to something more significant.

2. Marketers tend to view voice like they view traditional marketing – running campaigns. But campaigns aren’t cost-effective with voice because they are short-lived. With voice, there should be a shift towards long-term loyalty offerings. Brands should be investing in voice as a channel for the long-term.

3. Ben believes that “wearable” devices will take market share from mobile phones and voice assistants in the long run. And he hopes that one day it will be like “Star Trek” where you can just speak and activate an interaction without having to worry about where that device is at all.

4. The discussion at the 19:00 mark about how the “lean in” experience compares to the “lean back” one is fascinating. You should really listen to it yourself. For example, Ben posits some fascinating possibilities – “interacting” with the news rather than sitting on the sofa merely watching it. I agree the day for that opportunity is coming soon – there are a few major tech companies right now trying to crack the code to improve video streaming to the point where much more interaction with the audience will be feasible. So it’s not just voice that will enable this, it seems like it will be video too…

May 14, 2019

Google Bets on Mobile for Voice Growth

This “voicebot.ai” piece recaps how Google seems to be betting on mobile as where a lot of voice interactions will take place going forward. Here’s an excerpt:

This is an interesting development in the Google Assistant ecosystem. As Google Assistant matures on Android, there is the gravity pull of millions of Android apps and developers committed to the platform. There is also the fact that Google on its most recent count had only accumulated about 4,200 Actions in the U.S. and presumably a far lower number in other countries. This slow growth threatens to create a perception of tepid Assistant support by developers. However, if a lot of developers begin adding Assistant features to their Android apps, then the value and reach will accelerate quickly.

The focus on the phone tells you where Google thinks the near-term platform growth will come from. There are over 1 billion devices with Google Assistant. Of those, there are very likely fewer than 100 million voice-first devices such as smart speakers. And, there are now 2.5 billion active Android smartphone users. So, Google can see the growth for Assistant in the near-term will be on mobile provided there are useful features that take advantage of it.

May 13, 2019

Paranoia to Continue: Alexa Transcripts Survive Deletion of Actual Voice Records

Last week, I compared the culture in China of acceptance of voice & AI to one of paranoia among many here in the US. The latest revelation that transcripts of your voice records in Alexa survive your deletion of the actual records will not help the situation. Here’s an excerpt from this C-Net article:

Amazon lets you delete those voice recordings, giving you a false sense of privacy. But the company still has that data, just not as a sound bite. It keeps the text logs of the transcribed audio on its cloud servers, with no option for you to delete them. Amazon said it erases the text transcripts from Alexa’s “main system,” but is working on removing them from other areas where the data can travel.

“When a customer deletes a voice recording, we also delete the corresponding text transcript associated with their account from our main Alexa systems and many subsystems, and have work underway to delete it from remaining subsystems,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an email.

The new finding comes as privacy concerns have reached a boiling point, with people scrutinizing the tech they use more than ever. People want privacy from tech giants, and are finding that the options companies offer are not really doing the trick. In April, Facebook admitted it still tracked people after they deactivated their accounts.

May 9, 2019

Voice-Enabled Ads Are Here, Starting With Commuters…

As RAIN’s Eric Turkington writes in “Voicebot” last week, despite Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant offering no formal advertising opportunities, the first companies have developed voice-enabled ads – ones that particularly focus on those that commute. Here’s an excerpt:

All of these content opportunities beg the question of business model. Thus far, voice platforms have been loathe to allow advertising into the user experience for fear of alienating users as they acclimate to the new medium. Given the trends in streaming media today across music and video, it’s a good bet that freemium content models will come into the car, but there are also innovations in interactive audio advertising that could make ad-supported models more attractive. Instreamatic.ai is at the forefront of this movement, enabling content providers like Pandora to offer ads that users can talk to and which then drive them down the funnel. Early data indicates high levels of memorability and conversion compared to non-interactive audio ads.

Also see this TechCrunch piece about how Spotify is doing limited tests of voice-enabled ads…