Voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant have become significant parts of many consumers’ lives. This tech can help with everything from adjusting the thermostat to researching term papers to ordering takeout. It’s also making inroads into the business world, particularly in industries that require hands-on work.
Users definitely understand the convenience factor, but they may not know all the ins and outs. There are important ways to improve the performance of voice-activated tech, as well as privacy and security factors that some users may not have considered. Below, 12 members of Forbes Technology Council share essential facts voice-activated tech users (and skeptics) should be aware of.
1. Taking the time to customize it is key.
Although still very young in many ways, voice-activated tech is already extremely powerful. Many people just get it connected to Wi-Fi and start using it. But for it to work really well, you should take some time to customize it with your preferences, routine options and smart home technologies. It really can help make many tasks easier for you and your family. – Heather Udo, Shoppable®
2. It will continue to become more personalized.
Voice-activated tech is expected to become better at anticipating future problems as well as the needs of each user. Having the ability to distinguish between different users will help voice-activated tech bring more personalized content to each user, which will make it an effective marketing tool. Naturally, this will also apply to content children have access to, so certain restrictions will be necessary. – Sanjay Malhotra, Clearbridge Mobile
3. Using it more helps it improve.
Perhaps the most mystical part of voice-activated tech is understanding just what the device is capable of. It’s important to remember that each time you use it you are helping to improve it. Experimentation and speaking to the device just as you would a human will greatly help to improve similar experiences in the future. – Nate Fender, Ario Technologies Inc.
4. You need to review and adjust the privacy and security settings.
Voice-activated tech is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used well or badly. Start by understanding the privacy and security settings available in the voice tech you are using, as well as the data retention policies of the company supplying the tech. Presume everything you say is being listened to and recorded, and adjust the settings you can from there until you are comfortable. – Carolyn Jenkins, EPSoft Technologies
5. It’s a great tool for improving accessibility.
While the convenience of voice-activated tech is a key positive, the ability to leverage it as an accessibility and efficiency tool both for individual consumers and the wider business market should not be underestimated. Leveraged properly it offers the significant ability to bypass disability or learning difficulties and create equality in an ever-increasing digital workforce and economy. – Mark Brown, British Standards Institution (BSI)
6. It has multiple applications for workers.
Businesses should know there’s so much more to voice-activated tech these days than Siri and Alexa. These include voice AI programs that can enable industrial field workers to call up documents, data, images and video with a simple, intuitive request and view them on smart glasses. It’s perfect for workers handling tools and other equipment while doing maintenance or troubleshooting. – Barry Po, mCloud Technologies
7. It can help medical professionals care for patients more quickly and safely.
Voice-activated technology is essential for nurses, doctors and other medical team members to do their jobs effectively. These frontline healthcare workers need their hands free to care for patients quickly and safely. The ability to use a wake word to activate a hands-free communication device worn under a protective gown can help reduce the risk of contamination, saving valuable time and PPE. – Brent Lang, Vocera Communications
8. Users should be aware of the potential for security breaches.
9. It encodes the biases of those training it.
Voice-based assistants encode biases present in the training examples. These include accent understanding, gender bias, geographic bias, religious bias and so on. Awareness of these biases is the first step. In the near future I expect research will be carried out to understand the impact of these biases on consumers—in the same way that biases in language models for text generation are being studied today. – Ricardo Baeza-Yates, Institute for Experiential AI – Northeastern University
10. The devices are always listening.
These technologies are great time-savers and make life easier, but they also make it easy to inadvertently share private information without thinking. These devices are always on, collecting data about you and your habits to better provide services—but there is no filter, and they simply collect it all. This makes it too easy to share private data with big tech that you did not intend to share. – Brad Thomas, Prophecy International
11. There’s an inherent risk of fraud.
Voice biometrics is a technology that relies on recognizing patterns in each individual’s voice. Our clients in Australia are now using voice biometrics for online authentication and verification. This in turn carries a number of security risks that must be managed carefully. Deep fakes are a good example. – Dominic David, ACTIONX
12. There’s a need for more government oversight.
Voice-activated tech is listening all of the time, and the privacy issues should be concerning to us all. Should these concerns stop the progress or use of these technologies? I think not. However, what are an individual’s rights when it comes to privacy? As with many things regarding advanced technology, there does need to be appropriate government regulation versus self-policing from the tech sector. – Laurie McGraw, AMA