One in every six Americans now own at least one form of voice AI technology, research has found.
In a study by NPR and Edison Research, it was revealed that 16% of the population of the U.S.A. are now owners of a smart speaker, a 128% increase on last year’s figures.
A significant proportion of those smart speaker owners are in fact new owners. Products such as Google’s Home Mini and Amazon’s Echo Dot were popular gifts over the festive period, and sales figures released by Google showed that the search engine firm sold “more than one” Home Mini every second since the product’s launch on October 19th last year.
In total, 7% of Americans of purchased one of the smart speakers available between Black Friday at the end of November and 31st of December 2017.
As the findings indicate, two of tech’s ‘big four’ – Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple – exert a dominant influence over the market. But beneath the surface, voice technology and AI are increasingly diverse sectors, and many smaller firms are working to advance the capabilities of intelligence technology and find their niche within the market.
One such company is Bilbao-based Sherpa, which has been conducting research into Artificial Intelligence since 2012 in order to create ‘the next generation of digital assistants’. Ian Cowley, an analyst at Sherpa, told DIGIT that it is a “really interesting time in voice technology.”
“The voice technology market is expanding all the time, and what the latest figures don’t tell us is that smart speakers are increasingly used, not by individuals, but by families of four or five. In reality, the number of users is higher than the data suggests.”
Keri McCool, head of business development at innovation firm Screenmedia, echoed Cowan’s sentiment.
She told DIGIT, “We’ve seen a big rise in interest from companies looking to take advantage of the explosive growth in voice technologies […] to such an extent that we had to create a dedicated voice division within Screenmedia to cope with the growth in demand.”
McCool also noted the rapidly increasing quality of the voice technology systems now on offer, commenting that “Better natural language processing, biometrics, and secure authentication and payments are some of the key developments we’re expecting in 2018 which will make smart speakers like the Echo become must-have sales and service channels for dozens of industries by the end of the year.”
Making Our Lives Easier
One notable evolution in the use of voice technology since its inception has been the increased focus on practicality. Voice AI has traditionally been regarded by the public as a superfluous form of entertainment, a comical add-on which serves to perform trivial tasks such as answering random queries and turning down the music volume.
However, more and more users are turning to voice technology to assist them with practical, everyday duties. NPR and Edison Research’s findings indicate that 64% of American owners of smart speakers plan to use voice recognition for assistance with household tasks.
Cowley, too, notes that Sherpa’s voice AI technology “uses a predictive intelligence system which learns from experience in order to build a user profile and anticipate a user’s needs, helping them through their daily lives.”
Although Sherpa’s software is primarily used on mobile phones and to help make car travel safer, Cowan commented that “intelligence assistance can be used in variety of industries to help workers with their everyday tasks, acting as an omnipresent personal assistant to help make work that little bit easier.”
Stratos Filalithis, acting head of The University of Edinburgh’s IS and Website Communication team, also emphasised the functionality of voice AI. He told DIGIT that “The University of Edinburgh Information Services are putting significant effort on how voice technologies can meaningfully enhance the student digital experience.”
“Current activities range from understanding voice experience standards to exploring these innovative technologies via piloting technical implementations. We ‘re expecting a lot of development in this area and are keen to reap the opportunities in the best way possible.”
Redefining Everyday Convenience
For Filalithis, it is “the convenience of talking over typing,” that is driving voice technology’s exponential growth.
Although it was reported that both Google and Amazon both failed to make money on their product sales over Christmas, short-term profits are only of secondary importance at this stage.
Rather, their goal is to bring about a longer-term shift in consumer habits which sees the entry of smart speakers into the domestic sphere. After all, Amazon’s Alexa was borne out of the impulse to “redefine everyday convenience”, according to their head of connected commerce.
But as impressive as voice technology’s growth has been in the past year, industry experts do not yet expect it to outperform existing devices when it comes to consumer popularity. Screenmedia’s Keri McCool commented that “We think voice will have a radical impact on how we interact with digital devices and services.”
“It won’t replace smartphones, but it will fuel a rise in non-screen devices which we will use alongside them. It’s still in its early days but it’s an exciting field to be involved in; it’s the ‘Star Trek’ dream we’ve had since we were kids.”