Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 5th Jan 2017 23:02 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

In short, Amazon is building the operating system of the home - its name is Alexa - and it has all of the qualities of an operating system you might expect:

  • All kinds of hardware manufacturers are lining up to build Alexa-enabled devices, and will inevitably compete with each other to improve quality and lower prices.
  • Even more devices and appliances are plugging into Alexa's easy-to-use and flexible framework, creating the conditions for a moat: appliances are a lot more expensive than software, and much longer lasting, which means everyone who buys something that works with Alexa is much less likely to switch.

It's definitely an interesting case to make - and Ben Thomspon does it well - but I still have a very, very hard time seeing voice-driven interfaces as anything but a gimmick at this point in time. Every point I made about this subject in the Summer of 2016 still stands today - limited functionality, terrible speech recognition, inability to deal with dialects and accents, and the complete and utter lack of support for people who live multilingual lives.

I can't hammer this last point home often enough: not a single one of the voice-driven interfaces we have today - Alexa, Siri, Google Now, Google Assistant, Cortana, whatever - support multilingual use. Some of them may allow you to go deep into a menu structure to change input language (while some, like smartwatches, even require a full wipe and reset), but that's not a solution to the problem of switching language sometimes even several times a minute, something multilingual people have to do dozens of times every day. And again - there are literally hundreds of millions of people who lead multilingual lives.

Heck, Alexa is only available in English and German!

If voice-driven interfaces are really as important as people make them out to be, they've got at least a decade of development ahead of them before they become actually useful and usable for the vast majority of the world.

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you really should try it
by kristoph on Fri 6th Jan 2017 01:10 UTC
Member since:

I personally have an Alexa and of course Siri and I understand their both 'English speakers' and so I need to speak to them in English. This works fine, so it's really not a huge deal.

I don't get what your issue is - you speak English to those who only speak English - why can't you speak English/German/whatever to a machine which only speaks that language?

Anyway, there is at least 250 million consumers ( not just people, but people who buy stuff ) in the US who are going to be able to use an English only voice interface. That is a huge market that will drive these innovations, much as the English speaking internet drove internet innovations.

PS. English is my 5th language.

Edited 2017-01-06 01:12 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: you really should try it
by bdpedersen on Fri 6th Jan 2017 12:36 in reply to "you really should try it"
bdpedersen Member since:

Try asking Siri to play a song with an english title in your local language. Funny things entails, but never the correct action.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: you really should try it
by Thom_Holwerda on Fri 6th Jan 2017 12:47 in reply to "you really should try it"
Thom_Holwerda Member since:

I don't get what your issue is - you speak English to those who only speak English - why can't you speak English/German/whatever to a machine which only speaks that language?

If I set it to English:

"Siri, send a message to my friend and tell her 'ik ben rond zes uur bij jullie; moeten we nog boodschappen doen voor het eten?'"

Siri doesn't know what the fuck is going on.

If I set it to Dutch:

"Siri, stuur een e-mail naar David 'Hi David, I'll be on a weekend trip, so can you take care of OSNews for the next few days? Thanks, and say hi to Beth & the kids!'"

Siri doesn't know what the fuck is going on.

Whatever I set it to - English or Dutch - it will be useless to me for about 50% of my daily computer activity. And if you think this is a rare kind of thing - it isn't. Hundreds of millions of people live multilingual lives like this, and technology has no idea how to handle this stuff.

Reply Parent Score: 5

WereCatf Member since:

Pretty much what you said: most of my e-mails are in English, my SMS-messages are in Finnish, my Whatsapp-messages are in both languages and sometimes the messages themselves contain both languages, and due to Finland itself being bilingual in the first place (Finnish and Swedish), that also brings with it issues!

Just setting a voice-assistant to a single language isn't going to fly, it's a complete no-starter for someone who lives a multi-lingual life.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: you really should try it
by grat on Fri 6th Jan 2017 16:25 in reply to "RE: you really should try it"
grat Member since:

Wow. You don't want much from voice recognition, do you?

I've been playing with voice recognition since OS/2 Warp 4 (which for 1996, was pretty good).

But the examples you give are, to put it mildly, incredibly difficult to parse. Oh, once it's in text, sure, Google Translate parsed out your first message to:

Siri, send a message to my friend and tell her "I'm about six hours with you; we have to go shopping for dinner?"

Which is (mostly) accurate, I assume-- so obviously, being able to translate a multilingual sentence isn't outside our current technology. Translating a spoken version of that to text, however, has some pitfalls.

When siri hears "ik ben rond", how does it know that's dutch? The sound is very close to "ich bin rohn", which might mean "I am raw" in German.

I'm sure that to you, as a native speaker of Dutch, the two phrases sound wildly dissimilar, but to a computer that has to handle a wide range of variations, it's going to be a tossup.

The best you could hope for would be:

"Siri, send a message to my friend and tell her in dutch, "ik ben rond zes ....".

That might be doable with today's technology. But auto-recognizing language switching on the fly, with the various dialects and pronunciations? We're still a number of years from that.

This has been one of my complaints about voice recognition for twenty years-- By the time you put in the various trimmings to make the computer understand exactly what you want, it would have been faster to type it.

Then again, I can hit 80+ WPM on a keyboard-- Especially if it's a good mechanical keyboard like laptops and tablets don't have. ;)

Reply Parent Score: 6

RE[2]: you really should try it
by owczi on Fri 6th Jan 2017 19:48 in reply to "RE: you really should try it"
owczi Member since:

Relax Thom, we only recently achieved wide support for multilingual smartphone keyboards, give it some time, it's not like it's the 21st century. Oh, wait...

Reply Parent Score: 1

kristoph Member since:

My *human* assistant wouldn't be able to do the things you just suggested are required of machine assistants, because she doesn't speak those languages ( she speaks 3, but we only have English in common ).

That does not make my human assistant useless, very much the contrary. Are you really going to tell me that if you had the option of an English speaking human assistant or no assistant you would rather choose not having one?

It's the same with machine assistants. I walk around my house all day asking siri to do simple stuff and she/it does them without any difficulty and I can only imagine Siri/Alexa/Google whatever will only improve rapidly.

Edited 2017-01-07 00:45 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: you really should try it
by lsatenstein on Sun 8th Jan 2017 16:03 in reply to "you really should try it"
lsatenstein Member since:

The only way I would use voice activation is if I was incapacitated and in bed. From the bedsite I could ask to turn on the light, or the TV or issue commands to raise/lower the bed mattress or the temperature in the room.

And there is nothing that I need so far that requires me to purchase a IOT item.

I have seen fridges with IOT panels. These panels use software and that software has a maintenance contract. Who benefits? My existing fridge lasted 20 years before we decided to add a second fridge to include more storage.

Reply Parent Score: 1