Meet Your New Assistant: How Siri, Alexa and AI will change work & life


It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since we were first able to witness the splendor of our parents having a full-blown argument with Siri. (And by “parents,” I mean “all of us”; a few months ago I asked her for directions home and her response was “I don’t know where ‘home’ is. In fact, I don’t know anything about you,” and I swear there was some sass in her inflection; she was one exchange away from quoting Drake to me, about how I used to be a good girl but she doesn’t even recognize me anymore. I haven’t talked to her since.) Point is, the future has officially arrived, as it is wont to do; artificial intelligence continues to be integrated into our lives, and we’re on the fast track to being able to control a lot with voice-responsive devices. Here’s a look at where the technology is now, how it can help us with our day-to-day work and home life, and what the future holds (hopefully, it’ll include abandoning the sexist notion that AI assistants are inherently female, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic). 

Alexa + Amazon Echo

If you’ve caught the commercials for Amazon Echo, you’ll have picked up on the fact that Alexa, the “brain”/operating system behind the smart speaker, has the ability to swap out your crummy yacht-rock playlist for a new Missy Elliott joint on command, or read you news headlines about how you mooned the paparazzi the previous night. In non-Alex-Baldwin-specific terms: it integrates with Amazon Music, Spotify and Pandora to play any song you want to hear; it’ll read you news headlines and sports scores; check the weather for you; order things off Amazon for you; and integrate with your Google Calendar so it can remind you of appointments and even tell you when to leave your house based on traffic. The most recent developments allow you to use Yelp, read e-books to you out loud, and—perhaps most luxurious of all—order a pizza from Domino’s. It can also integrate with smart-home devices so you can control lights, locks, curtains, thermostats and other appliances.

In the whole scheme of things, these are all tasks that can be done with relative ease if you go analog and just use your smartphone like the good ol’ days, but if you’re trying to accomplish tasks without taking off your sleep mask or if you’re planning on getting work done from the toilet, it’s highly convenient. It’ll run you $179.99 to bring the full-fledged smart speaker into your home, though this week brings big news: Amazon Echo Dot, a scrunched-down version of Echo that boasts most of the same functionality, will start shipping in its new version on October 20th. The smaller speakers are inferior, but at $49.99, that seems like a small sacrifice, considering you can connect your Dot to external speakers via Bluetooth and it’s essentially the same as Amazon Echo in other respects.

Google Home

Hot on the heels of the Echo Dot release, Google has issued its own answer: a chatty, oversized salt shaker. JK, JK. The functionality is very similar to that of Amazon’s smart speakers, and it’ll set you back $129 upon its release on November 4th. They didn’t go the anthropomorphic route, so you activate it by saying “OK Google,” which somehow makes it feel less fun (yeah, we’re sick of the feminization of these products, but there’s gotta be some happy medium, no?). There’s speculation that because it’s made by Google, its search engine powers are unmatched. 

...and what about Apple + Siri?! 

The world’s most valuable brand has been conspicuously absent from the AI-for-everybody race to market, despite working on a version for over two years, according to Bloomberg reports. While nothing has been officially announced, as is always the case surrounding the famously secretive company, rumors abound that Siri is being integrated into an Apple TV-sized device. There’s speculation that it will surpass the current Amazon and Google products by incorporating highly advanced speech-pattern recognition and facial recognition that may even have the capability to determine your emotional state (so it’ll not only order you Domino’s delivery, but know that you need Domino’s delivery before you even ask). Considering neither of the aforementioned smart speakers are particularly gorgeous in their design, it’s probably a safe bet to assume Apple is going to come out on top in that department, too. 

As it stands, the success of Amazon Echo has apparently been a huge surprise, and we’ll find out soon how well Google Home sells in comparison. What we do know is that this frantic scramble to smarten up our workspaces and homes can only mean one thing: those flying cars we were promised back when we were kids can’t be too far away. 

‘Til the next future arrives, then: That $50 Amazon Dot is looking pretty sweet, and it’ll be especially rad once they incorporate the ability to change its “wake word” to Alex (or Jon Hamm or Jon Bon Jovi or whatever you want) and give it a dude’s Australian accent. 

-Deena Drewis


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