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Why do those "smart speaker" thingies exist?

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38 minutes ago, larrytheimp said:

It's also completely ok for someone to question technology dude, no need to play the martyr 

Nobody's playing the martyr. A poster basically suggested I was lying upthread.

Edited by Spockydog

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7 minutes ago, Tywin et al. said:

I think you're wrong here, not because I know you better than you know you, but because of the speed of technology. We're probably not very far away from things like voice activated stoves, toasters, microwaves, coffee pots etc., and once that happens there will be a strong and quick push to have centralized household voice activating systems, so one could say start the stove in their kitchen and turn on the TV in the living room from their bedroom through an intercom. It will be 2001 light. Maybe you will avoid it, but it will be everywhere.

I wouldn't be so sure about that.
Technology doesn't exactly evolve as we expect, not because of technological possibilities, but because of human preferences, which turn out to be harder to predict than we might think. In other words, that something is technically possible doesn't mean that it's going to be widespread.
There are plenty of funny examples of this. The first one popping through my head is the videophone: for many years everyone expected phones that include a video feed to become widespread. It was rather easy to make, technically speaking, and it seemed obvious that everyone would want one.
But it never really happened. Decade after decade, AT&T tried to commercialize it, and it just never took off. And fifty years later, although we all have skype stored somewhere on our computers for specific uses (like long-distance communication with relatives or work-related conferences), on a daily basis we tend to prefer sending a few lines of text. Even phone calls are becoming something of a rarity.
So I dunno about voice-activated stuff. The option is sexy, but it's been around for some time now, and while it is popular, it's not as popular as one might have expected just a decade ago. We love smart appliances, yes, but not everyone is jumping on the voice-activation bandwagon, despite many of our devices offering the possibilty. Right now it's still kind of a question mark. It could become the future, ot it could become that option that only gets used in specific circumstances. It will come down to questions of actual convenience, taste, and even fashion. If tons of people find that it does make some tasks easier it will indeed become the basic means of using centralized smart houses. But people could also find that they like visual interfaces better. Or a weird twist of fate could even make a parent technology more convenient on a daily basis (like programmation).
So I dunno. While I wouldn't project my own personal preferences on the future, I wouldn't entirely dismiss the possibility of it not being as straightforward as you say. In fact, a quick google search tells me I'm not alone on this one, with pretty much the same arguments and doubts that I have:
https://www.ft.com/content/8e8237ca-b7f6-11e7-8c12-5661783e5589

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I have an Echo, it was a gift. I thought it was dumb but I set it up because it was free, and I like it. Principally I use it to play music, but it can also answer some questions -- it is not great at it but has been steadily improving -- and I have it set up to work with some lights in my house, which is nice. I walk in the door and tell it to turn on the lights and they go on. This is nice for me because my living room, where you enter, has no useful light switches near the front door. It is also handy to be able to set a timer hands-free in the kitchen, or to realize I'm getting sleepy on the couch and set an alarm to wake myself up in time to leave for my next appointment.

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My soon-to-be not roommate rudely brought an Alexa into the abode.  I notice that the word that really sets it off is "election."

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My echo dot is well worth the £30 or so we spent on it in a sale. A digital radio would have cost as much or more. For some people though, it could be genuinely life changing.

 

My uncle passed away in November. He lived as a quadraplegic for 50ish years. We were waiting on a kickstarter product we missed to come to market which would have linked an echo with a device that could change the tv channel for him.

 

For me and you, that's convenient. For him, it would have meant not having to call a carer in to change the channel when he was in bed. It would have given him complete control of his TV. The same way that dragon had for his PC. 

 

People like me, who spend disposable cash for convenience, open the way for these devices to genuinely change the lives of people with physical disabilities.

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14 hours ago, Rippounet said:

I wouldn't be so sure about that.
Technology doesn't exactly evolve as we expect, not because of technological possibilities, but because of human preferences, which turn out to be harder to predict than we might think. In other words, that something is technically possible doesn't mean that it's going to be widespread.
There are plenty of funny examples of this. The first one popping through my head is the videophone: for many years everyone expected phones that include a video feed to become widespread. It was rather easy to make, technically speaking, and it seemed obvious that everyone would want one.
But it never really happened. Decade after decade, AT&T tried to commercialize it, and it just never took off. And fifty years later, although we all have skype stored somewhere on our computers for specific uses (like long-distance communication with relatives or work-related conferences), on a daily basis we tend to prefer sending a few lines of text. Even phone calls are becoming something of a rarity.
So I dunno about voice-activated stuff. The option is sexy, but it's been around for some time now, and while it is popular, it's not as popular as one might have expected just a decade ago. We love smart appliances, yes, but not everyone is jumping on the voice-activation bandwagon, despite many of our devices offering the possibilty. Right now it's still kind of a question mark. It could become the future, ot it could become that option that only gets used in specific circumstances. It will come down to questions of actual convenience, taste, and even fashion. If tons of people find that it does make some tasks easier it will indeed become the basic means of using centralized smart houses. But people could also find that they like visual interfaces better. Or a weird twist of fate could even make a parent technology more convenient on a daily basis (like programmation).
So I dunno. While I wouldn't project my own personal preferences on the future, I wouldn't entirely dismiss the possibility of it not being as straightforward as you say. In fact, a quick google search tells me I'm not alone on this one, with pretty much the same arguments and doubts that I have:
https://www.ft.com/content/8e8237ca-b7f6-11e7-8c12-5661783e5589

Yeah, this is pretty much where I'm at.  I have no real want or need to set up stuff that is already voice activated (phone, xbox, etc...) and much prefer other types of input methods over voice activation (screens & controllers).  I really love smart appliances and having everything connected with my phone as the interface, I just would rather use that interface than voice commands.

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So far it seems it is not for me. I don't use the voice options on either my phone or my laptop. Part of it is the voice control, which goes against my preferred tactile interaction and visual feedback.

But it isn't only the voice operated speakers. I can only look on the  whole current interest in smart homes, with the automation of everything (lights, curtains, temperature control, etc) with some bemused interest. It is not for me (yet?).

 

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17 hours ago, Tywin et al. said:

I think you're wrong here, not because I know you better than you know you, but because of the speed of technology. We're probably not very far away from things like voice activated stoves, toasters, microwaves, coffee pots etc., and once that happens there will be a strong and quick push to have centralized household voice activating systems, so one could say start the stove in their kitchen and turn on the TV on the living room from their bedroom through an intercom. It will be 2001 light. Maybe you will avoid it, but it will be everywhere.

 

Perhaps, but things would have to break down and be irreplaceable except by such fancy devices before this would occur for me. (In the same way you basically simply can't buy a new TV without remote control these days.)  I am not someone who replaces things until I have to. Also, I live in an apartment where the stove and refrigerator are owned by the landlord, not myself. Last year I had to buy a new dishwasher because the previous one broke down, but the new dishwasher doesn't have any voice activation or anything similar. 

Edited by Ormond

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22 hours ago, Ormond said:

I am way older than most people on this board and I have also never been an early adopter of new technology. I doubt if I will ever have something like Alexa unless when I get really old and decrepit I have to move to an assisted living facility which will automatically have them in every room.

I guess my one worry about society in general and all of these electronic devices is their effect on our physical health. This is NOT just an issue with "smart speakers" but with a lot of way older things I myself do regularly use -- such as the TV remote control. At the beginning of humankind's use of technological "labor-saving" devices, a lot of the labor saved was heavy labor which could sometimes be bad for one's health instead of good. But I am a bit concerned with the idea that we have now moved way beyond that era and the "labor" we are saving is mostly moderate or mild exercise which is good for our bodies and our health. The party of Spockydog's post above about his using his device which concerns me is the loss of those 100 to 120 steps he takes in order to get to his computer. That may not seem like much, but the loss of little incidental bits of exercise like that every day really does contribute to the modern problem of obesity and lack of health (even people who are not obese are generally healthier if they are not complete "couch potatoes" in terms of exercise.)

So if one is going to be losing those steps every day, one has to be consciously aware of the need to replace them with other forms of exercise. There are some people who have a genetic constitution where they have a high "activity level" and will constantly be jumping up and moving their bodies without thinking about it, whether or not they have an Alexa type device. But for most of us, it will take conscious effort to replace the "labor" we save with these devices with other forms of exercise for it not to be detrimental to our health. (This is why I think those desks where one can stand instead of sit while working at them are probably a very good thing.) Certainly if one is going to have something like an Alexa, it would be a really good idea to have one of things you program into it reminders to exercise. 

Well, that's funny. Another thing Silicon Valley has created a big hype about is fitness trackers. That's essentially "smart" wristbands or watches telling you to get some exercise and patting you on the shoulder for whatever pitiful effort you made. 

I never saw any appeal in interacting with tech by speech either, BTW. I really appreciate it when a device has a real "off" button that actually cuts an electric circuit.

Edited by Loge

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35 minutes ago, Ormond said:

Perhaps, but things would have to break down and be irreplaceable except by such fancy devices before this would occur for me. (In the same way you basically simply can't buy a new TV without remote control these days.)  I am not someone who replaces things until I have to. Also, I live in an apartment where the stove and refrigerator are owned by the landlord, not myself. Last year I had to buy a new dishwasher because the previous one broke down, but the new dishwasher doesn't have any voice activation or anything similar. 

My TV was purchased in 1994. :)

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I’m mildly interested in this. I’m essentially a reluctant adopter of tech. I was massively anti kindle - until Himself boy got one and I picked it up one day when we were traveling. It’s now my favourite thing in the world and I do the vast majority of my reading on one of the two I own.

 

He on the other hand is an early adopter. So we have Alexa, and an echo dot in the bedroom. After a slow start, I have to admit I like it. I like voice controlled Spotify when I’m cooking. Actually voice recognition is most useful when prepping and cooking. I like being able to call the most recent podcast of a couple of series on tune in. I like being able to call downstairs on a drop in if I’m putting the toddler to bed and I want him to do something. The lights come on before I get home (Ireland so it’s dark early in winter) which is a nice minor security feature. When we were on holiday a fortnight ago, they were coming on and off at various intervals in the living and main bedrooms, which is a definite security feature. We’re radio listeners anyway, so the digital radio is handy.

 

Would I have bought it. No. Am I glad I have it? Yes. 

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22 hours ago, Rippounet said:

I wouldn't be so sure about that.
Technology doesn't exactly evolve as we expect, not because of technological possibilities, but because of human preferences, which turn out to be harder to predict than we might think. In other words, that something is technically possible doesn't mean that it's going to be widespread.

I have no disagreements here, it's just how I think it will play out.

Quote

There are plenty of funny examples of this. The first one popping through my head is the videophone: for many years everyone expected phones that include a video feed to become widespread. It was rather easy to make, technically speaking, and it seemed obvious that everyone would want one.
But it never really happened. Decade after decade, AT&T tried to commercialize it, and it just never took off. And fifty years later, although we all have skype stored somewhere on our computers for specific uses (like long-distance communication with relatives or work-related conferences), on a daily basis we tend to prefer sending a few lines of text. Even phone calls are becoming something of a rarity.

So I dunno about voice-activated stuff. The option is sexy, but it's been around for some time now, and while it is popular, it's not as popular as one might have expected just a decade ago. We love smart appliances, yes, but not everyone is jumping on the voice-activation bandwagon, despite many of our devices offering the possibilty. Right now it's still kind of a question mark. It could become the future, ot it could become that option that only gets used in specific circumstances. It will come down to questions of actual convenience, taste, and even fashion. If tons of people find that it does make some tasks easier it will indeed become the basic means of using centralized smart houses. But people could also find that they like visual interfaces better. Or a weird twist of fate could even make a parent technology more convenient on a daily basis (like programmation).

The first example that popped into my head was the Apple watch. I thought that thing was going to take off like a rocket, but it didn't. The only people I know who really dig them now are older wealthier people who just want one more toy.

I do think there is a difference though between the Apple watch and a videophone and what I was describing. The first two examples only offer minor increases in quality of life. They are luxuries that don't really pay for themselves. And while having a centralized voice activation system in your house is also a luxury, it's one that offers a lot more practical benefits.  

Quote

So I dunno. While I wouldn't project my own personal preferences on the future, I wouldn't entirely dismiss the possibility of it not being as straightforward as you say. In fact, a quick google search tells me I'm not alone on this one, with pretty much the same arguments and doubts that I have:
https://www.ft.com/content/8e8237ca-b7f6-11e7-8c12-5661783e5589

Paywall :(

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6 hours ago, Ormond said:

Perhaps, but things would have to break down and be irreplaceable except by such fancy devices before this would occur for me. (In the same way you basically simply can't buy a new TV without remote control these days.)  I am not someone who replaces things until I have to. Also, I live in an apartment where the stove and refrigerator are owned by the landlord, not myself. Last year I had to buy a new dishwasher because the previous one broke down, but the new dishwasher doesn't have any voice activation or anything similar. 

Well I guess with those details I can see why you'd be resistant to installing a voice activation system for your entire place, but I do think it will be a popular thing and probably wouldn't take too long to invent. I guess we'll only know when we get there. :)

5 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

My TV was purchased in 1994. :)

What do blu-rays look like on that thing? 

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9 minutes ago, Tywin et al. said:

Well I guess with those details I can see why you'd be resistant to installing a voice activation system for your entire place, but I do think it will be a popular thing and probably wouldn't take too long to invent. I guess we'll only know when we get there. :)

What do blu-rays look like on that thing? 

No blu-rays (but for those we had to buy to get the DVDs) in our house.

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I was at some friends' apartment the other day, and they had mentioned putting a lot of time and cash into making their apartment feel like a sci-fi movie. Her husband is an architect, she's a designer, and they have pretty much the coolest apartment I've ever seen, so I was all ears when they were excited to show guests their new toys.

One of their cats is named Lex, and they are lifelong (and rich) nerds, so they get their robo-house's attention with "Computer..."  instead of "Alexa".

As with a lot of new tech, I was skeptical of its need, as are some others in this thread. But screw it. It was pretty fucking awesome. All the lights were on when my date and I walked in. The hostess said "check this out! Lighting is all set up!" She said "Computer, party mode" or something like that, and instead of a bright, quiet apartment, some nondescript lighting along the wall went to this incredible mix of warm reds and browns and cooler greens, accentuating their art and furniture. Her spotify playlist started along with the lighting. It instantly made an already kick-ass apartment into a seriously awesome one. Once we settled down, she said "Computer, Movie time", off went the music, the lights went dark, and the damn blinds came down. It was bad ass.

I pestered her for details a bit, they use a couple Amazon Dots, a Wink Hub that does the lighting and blinds (and apparently thermostat), several IFTTT routines to sort out what stuff to interconnect and when.

Long story short, it's a start. They spent a pretty penny, whereas my home theater works just as well once you have walked around closing the shades, dimming lights etc, then finding my amazon, projector, and soundbar remotes. The future is here. Well, it's over in a Manhattan studio, anyway.

Edited by Argonath Diver

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13 hours ago, Masonity said:

My uncle passed away in November. He lived as a quadraplegic for 50ish years. We were waiting on a kickstarter product we missed to come to market which would have linked an echo with a device that could change the tv channel for him.

For me and you, that's convenient. For him, it would have meant not having to call a carer in to change the channel when he was in bed. It would have given him complete control of his TV. The same way that dragon had for his PC. 

People like me, who spend disposable cash for convenience, open the way for these devices to genuinely change the lives of people with physical disabilities.

This makes sense, without really changing my mind about wanting one for me. It's certainly a beautiful product that I wish he'd have had, and I hope that those in his circumstances will be living better and more independently for the new products.

I'd see that as being especially impressed to look at a wheelchair that can be used by somebody who is a quadriplegic. It's impressive, it's life-saving, it's miraculous, and it's something that I don't need, but others do.

On 2/13/2018 at 11:11 AM, Rippounet said:

I wouldn't be so sure about that.
...
So I dunno about voice-activated stuff. The option is sexy, but it's been around for some time now, and while it is popular, it's not as popular as one might have expected just a decade ago. We love smart appliances, yes, but not everyone is jumping on the voice-activation bandwagon, despite many of our devices offering the possibilty. Right now it's still kind of a question mark. It could become the future, ot it could become that option that only gets used in specific circumstances. It will come down to questions of actual convenience, taste, and even fashion. If tons of people find that it does make some tasks easier it will indeed become the basic means of using centralized smart houses. But people could also find that they like visual interfaces better. Or a weird twist of fate could even make a parent technology more convenient on a daily basis (like programmation).

This is sort of how I feel. I don't use voice-activation, but as mentioned above, I haven't seen a smart speaker perform a function that cannot also be done with a phone. They even use the same AI software. You can download apps that allow your phone to have all of the same functions, which seems to be money saving to me.

I don't happen to use this technology, despite how easy it would be for me to download it. It's not the result of being a luddite, but the calculation that I have no issues whatsoever with the status quo. I really have read through the responses of those touting benefits and cannot see anything that makes me bother to want one. Similarly, when I saw it demonstrated, none of it impressed me because I had no issues with using my phone or doing the task in another way.

Saying that people who don't like smart-speakers are only saying that because they haven't used it is as silly as saying that we'd all have smart-watches now if only we'd used them, or that we'd all carry pocket knives if only we knew their use, or that we'd all cycle on pushbikes instead of driving - it's all assuming that there is one, and only one, correct means of completing day-to-day tasks.

I don't think people who use them are stupid, nor that people who reject them are luddites. What to me is a waste of money because I won't use it is not a waste to somebody who will. My guess is that smart speakers will be like smart-watches, in that they will struggle to become ubiquitous because they are competing with phones, which are already easy to use, convenient and more multi-purpose. The whole benefit of smart phones is that they are "one device for all purposes" and companies have delivered on the promise. They're now distributing the functions of a phone into separate products to boost their hardware sales. That doesn't make the new watches and speakers bad in any way, or we wouldn't like our phones, but I do think that it makes them superfluous.

Predicting the future is a mug's game, but there's my prediction.

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I was gifted my Google Home for my birthday. It has exceeded my expectations for convemience and entertainment. I usually use it when getting prepared for work (dressing, packing lunch) and while preparing food in the kitchen. Theres really been no downside to it for me.

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We were cat sitting for friends recently and whilst eating dinner in the living room in front of the TV, we became aware that something in the kitchen (20 feet away) was trying to communicate with us. We didn't know they had one of these things, let alone that it had been switched on the whole time. 

I'm ambivalent about other people's use of them but I see no need for one myself. At home I have a portable Bose speaker which is set to connect to my phone via Bluetooth. So if I'm going from the living room to the bathroom I just take the speaker along. My music is on Spotify so it's always with me (my phone) anyway.

Stuff like lighting we control though our phones or the X box (voice control), so pretty much the same as telling Alexa to do it I guess. 

I guess there's some redundancy in devices these days but I don't feel like there's anything extra I would get out of having one, that I can't already do with my phone. 

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