Recently, Amazon released a product called the Echo. While some might argue the
Amazon Echo is just another Siri/Ok Google, I disagree.
So What is Echo?
Echo is Artificial Intelligence (AI) that attempts to understand and learn human language. You can ask Echo questions in normal English, and it will attempt to give the answer back in normal English. This is a huge step forward from the typical computer experience. In the past, in order to talk to a computer, you needed to learn computer language. Now, the computer is learning our language.
It is worth mentioning that companies have attempted this before. All major tech companies have their own versions of this human/computer interface. They all attempt to understand English and they all attempt to turn technology into your servant. While this technology sounds amazing, it continues to be under utilized.
The Future as we imagined
30 years ago, when we imagined the future, we didn’t imagine miniature computers in our pockets. We definitely didn’t imagine speaking to little computers. The future as we foresaw dealt with human/computer interaction. We would communicate with a computer much the same way that we communicate with other humans – through everyday speech. When thinking about what we imagined, systems such as the Enterprise Computer or HAL come to mind; Big all knowing computers that give you information on demand. George Lucas however was the most accurate with his vision. Instead of imagining a big all knowing computer, he imagined a portable computer companion, C-3PO. C-3PO was a portable computer that you could speak too. He would listen to your question or command, and respond accordingly. Cue Amazon Echo.
Forget the phone, embrace the cloud
Just a couple months ago, Amazon released the Fire Phone. The recent release of the Echo shows us that Amazon had the technology to add an AI assistant into their phone much like Siri or Ok Google. Amazon however did not put this technology in the phone. They decided instead to take “computing in the cloud” to the next level – your living room.
While AI voice assistants like the Echo have existed for a while, we do not use them. If you are going to pull out your phone, unlock the screen, and speak to it – you might as well just type in your query. The fact of the matter is, voice assistants are error prone. The added convenience of using voice command does not outweigh the frustrations. The Echo will probably be just as error prone as all the others, but it gains a couple points in added convenience. You no longer have to wipe off your hands after eating Cheetos, pry your phone away from an addicted child, or look under the couch cushions to find your phone. Now, whenever you desire a computer assistant, you can just speak.
Where is R2?
Amazon’s Echo is currently not all that powerful, but will gain traction in the future. The Echo is currently the lone C-3PO without R2-D2. We all know how annoying and useless C-3PO appears to be whenever R2-D2 is away. The power of the duo is when they work together. C-3PO knows most languages and factual information. R2-D2 can interact with any computer system. Echo will be the new cloud when it starts working with other devices.
In the first Star Wars movie, Luke and Han Solo are stuck in a trash compactor.
Luke Skywalker: 3PO? C-3PO: We've had some problems... Luke Skywalker: [interrupting] Will you shut up and listen to me! Shut down all the garbage smashers on the detention level, will ya? Do you copy? Shut down all the garbage smashers on the detention level! Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level! C-3PO: [to R2-D2] No! Shut them *all* down, hurry! [R2 shuts down the compactors] Luke Skywalker: What? HAHA! Hey, you did it 3PO!
Note the pattern:
Luke gives instruction to C-3PO, who then in turn gives instruction to R2-D2. Now, imagine this scenario today. (Note: ‘Alexa’ is the keyword to turn on Echo)
Me: Alexa, set the oven to 350 Echo: [sends command to oven to preheat to 350] Oven: [sends confirmation to Echo] Echo: Oven preheating to 350 as requested. ... wait for oven to preheat ... Echo: Oven is now ready.
While Echo may use the same technology as Siri and OK Google, it changes the industry in a whole different way, just because of how the technology is presented to the user. Echo will be the first step to the next paradigm shift.