Could generative AI revive voice assistants? | WARC | The Feed
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Could generative AI revive voice assistants?
Voice assistants were the future once but they never really took off in the way their promoters originally envisaged; now generative AI could give them a new lease of life.
That we’re not all barking instructions at computers in Star Trek fashion is partly down to the multiplicity of voice assistants on offer, all within their own walled gardens to a greater or lesser extent, and the failure of the tech to live up to the hype.
“They were all dumb as a rock,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the Financial Times recently. “Whether it’s Cortana or Alexa or Google Assistant or Siri, all these just don’t work. We had a product that was supposed to be the new front-end to a lot of [information] that didn’t work.”
In his Margins newsletter, Amazon Echo fan Ranjan Roy notes how “voice couldn't simply be a cool feature that just gave you sports scores and told you the weather, and then evolve into something grander.”
Incrementality was not part of the plan. But it’s those more basic features that are most likely to be used and which led a few years ago to one observer calling Echo a “glorified clock radio”.
But even those uses are now at risk. Roy relates his growing frustration at Alexa’s habit of asking irrelevant follow-up questions (typical sample: “Alexa, what’s the weather?” “It’s 41 degrees and cloudy. Did you know I can also create a shopping list for you?”).
“Having zero control over a device you’ve let into your home just so some product manager can juice their engagement KPIs is annoying,” he writes.
Now Amazon is reported to have lost $10bn on Alexa in 2022 and has slashed jobs in the relevant team. At the same time, however, the company says that engagement increased 30% in 2022 and that more than half of Alexa customers are now using it to shop.
The Financial Times suggests that the direct value to Amazon of the many user interactions has been low, while developers have found it difficult to monetise the skills they have developed for Alexa.
A new dawn?
The co-creator of Siri believes the advent of generative AI could herald a “renaissance” of voice assistants. “This technology will enable that breadth and flexibility and complexity that has not existed with the previous generation of voice assistants,” Adam Cheyer told the Financial Times.
Meanwhile, Amazon is reported to be exploring what a more intelligent Alexa might bring to the table.
Sourced from Financial Times, Margins, WARC
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