My biggest takeaway from last week’s CES show in Vegas is that as 2018 begins, voice assistants, especially Amazon Alexa and Google Home, are the hottest things going. Similar tech is offered by Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, but they lag far behind. Just about everyone seems convinced that voice interfaces are here to stay and will supplant physical interfaces (e.g., touchpads and keyboards) in most applications from steering wheels to cookbooks. 39 million Americans (16%) now own a smart speaker. 11 percent of Americans own an Amazon Echo, and 4 percent own a Google Home product. Here’s an overview of almost everything Google Home can do, and here for Amazon’s Alexa.

I am often asked which to try. The answer depends on your desired applications and your personal tech ecosystem. For instance, though Siri lags in many ways (including a required pause between when you say “Hey, Siri” and when you can complete your request), if you’re mainly looking for home automation (especially if you’re very concerned about the security of your system), I recommend Siri (and the associated Apple HomeKit). For general inquiry stuff like news, Wikipedia, games and recipes, I’d go with Google. For shopping, it’s Alexa. (Major points to Alexa for being able to rename it “Computer,” making me feel like Scotty on Star Trek whenever I use it!) Again, all of this is trumped by your current ecosystem. If your phones are Android and office tools Google (and perhaps you use Chromecast), try Google Home. If you have Amazon Prime and use Amazon Prime Music, go with Alexa. If you have an iPhone and use iTunes, you should probably go with Apple, hoping that the HomePod will be released soon. (Without that, unlike Google Home and Amazon Alexa which are constantly listening [creepy?], Siri passively listens for its wake-up word only if your Apple device is docked or plugged in.)

This is the HomeKit App on my iPad. If You Have an iPhone or iPad, You Already Have It.

As a case study, without TOO much trouble, I now have my home set up so that at wake up time in the morning (at an appointed hour or just before sunrise on weekends), Alexa starts playing some of my favorite Beatles songs, just loudly enough to gently wake me up.

 

Bedroom Wall. Morning Alarm: Alexa Playing The Beatles. The Blue Ring Indicates She’s Active.

Eventually, I mumble through the pillows: “Hey Siri” (pause) “Good morning” to my iPhone docked in a clock radio charger next to my bed, and Apple turns on the lights in my bedroom (at 40%) and bathroom (100%), starts my coffee and turns on a couple of lights in the kitchen. Apple (via Ecobee) also raises the temperature on my main floor to 72 degrees.

Bedside. “Hey Siri, Good Morning.”

When I make it out to the kitchen, I say “OK Google, good morning,” and Google gives me the day’s weather forecast followed by news from the sources I have selected (NPR, CNET and BBC).

Kitchen. “OK Google, Good Morning” Triggers Weather & News Reports

Breakfast done, as I pass through the living room I say, “Computer, it’s work time,” and Alexa turns off the lights on the main floor, turns on the ones in my office, starts some chamber music playing softly at my desk, and turns the thermostats up in the office and down on the main floor. In the summer, the temperature ups and downs automatically adjust for the outside temps. One of my favorite things about all three systems is that all commands can be given in a normal conversational voice without shouting.

Living Room. Inconspicuously Resting on a Shelf, Alexa Hears, “Computer, It’s Work Time.”

If I leave the house during the day, Siri senses that I’m out of the range of my WiFi, locks the pedestrian door to my garage, turns off all of the lights in the house (except porch lights), and to save energy turns all of my thermostats to a cooler temp in the winter or warmer in the summer. When I return to WiFi range, my thermostats go back to their standard programming and if it’s after sunset a couple of lights turn on so I’m not entering a dark house.

I have not yet integrated my Apple calendar, to-do list or contacts into the Google or Alexa apps. There’s always more to do.

In My Office. Google and Alexa Awaiting Commands. When I Get to My Desk, Chamber Music is Already Playing through My B&W A7.

I do all of this is with the entry level models: Siri, Google’s Home Mini and Amazon’s Echo Dot. For better quality sound, I have them working with external speakers and my TV (“Hey Google, play season 2, episode 3 of ‘Stranger Things'”). Almost all of this could be done with any one of the devices. I use them all just as a learning tool.

I’ll Finish Installation of this Echo Dot in My Bathroom this Afternoon. The Flush Wall Mounting Shown Here and in the Bedroom is Not Necessary, But I Like It.

Back to CES: hundreds of vendors announced their current and coming support for Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Voice-controlled digital assistance will be HUGE in 2018. Perhaps the best news is that even with the post-holiday price increases, the entry level models from Google (Home Mini) and Alexa (Echo Dot) are only $50. Both are very simple to install and use. If you have an iPhone with Siri, you’re already on your way.

 

  • I mentioned Microsoft’s Cortana at the top of this post. For five reasons, I expect Cortana’s days are numbered. 1. Several PC makers announced at CES that Alexa will be built into their new machines. 2. Back in August, Microsoft announced that Alexa can be accessed through Cortana. 3. No new Cortana devices were announced at CES. 4. While instantly available on most Windows PCs, almost no one uses it. I messed with it for about 15 minutes once, wasn’t impressed, and haven’t gone back 5. And then there’s the marketing. Do you recognize this as the Cortana logo?

 

  • From Amy Spooner of University of Michigan Law School, a very long but good overview of the applications of AI in the practice of law. Many sources are cited and it’s replete with stats. Seems clients are driving a lot of this. Again, they want “better, faster, cheaper.”

 

  • From Blank Rome, “On October 17, 2017, San Francisco-based “EquBot” announced that it is launching an ETF powered by artificial intelligence (“AI”). Through IBM’s AI platform known as Watson, the ETF will seek to mirror what a team of human equity research analysts do on a daily basis.” More details here.

 

  • Here’s a fun graph from Artificial Lawyer. It shows the attitudes toward AI of some of the folks who have been vocal about it (Musk, Hawking, Gates and Zuckerberg among others), and how their opinions have evolved.

 

  • Here’s yet another good overview of what AI will be doing for Marketing in 2018. All of this is adaptable to Legal Marketing. (It mentions that “67 million voice-assisted devices will be in use in the U.S. by 2019”.)

 

  • I love this idea! AI is all about the data, right? And your biggest pile of data is your firm’s backups, right? So why not put that data to use as an AI learning tool; instead of it just sitting there, put AI data crawlers to work learning from it. It’s an awesome, but overlooked training set!

 

  • AI by Alibaba and Microsoft have independently surpassed human readers in a widely accepted test of reading comprehension.

 

  • Finally for today: When one gets into really futurist AI stuff the subject of transferring our “meat minds” into more durable technological form often comes up. This post is a wonderful (i.e., scientific but fun too) exploration of that possibility. Enjoy! (Some NSFW language.)