Voice Command Devices For The Home: Science Fiction Vs. Science Fact


Recently science has caught up with science fiction in having Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the home…well kind of.  While we are still a ways off from having true AI, we now have AI-like devices known as Digital Assistants, or Voice Command Devices.  Many of us are already familiar with the Digital Assistants on our smartphones in the form of Siri, Cortana and Google Now–just to name a few.  Siri is the only one that isn’t also currently available on desktop computers.  Although, it is anticipated that Siri will be big part of the new version of Apple TV and the new Mac operating system.  It’s also rumored that Apple TV will have a passive listening mode so it can be asked questions and operate much like the Amazon Echo.

Amazon Echo demonstration video:

Most of us are already aware of how Digital Assistants work on our smartphones helping us access information from the Internet via voice commands.  However, the next step in the evolution of Digital Assistants is here in the form of Jibo (pronounced “gee-bo”) and Amazon’s Echo system.  These new systems allow us to interact with Digital Assistants in the home like we never have before.  Both systems are hands free, voice activated systems that allow for answering questions on most any topic, playing music, audiobooks, news, weather, traffic, sports, and more.  The devices are connected to the cloud so they’re always getting smarter through machine learning.

Jibo demonstration video:

While the Amazon Echo is currently available for under $200, Jibo is still in development and the list of features available for the first deployment are still in question.  However, Jibo looks to offer a more personalized experience than Amazon Echo, or Apple TV.  Jibo offers a friendly robot-like interface that has more interactions and motions with people.  They seem to promise quite a lot in the demonstration video, but we’ll have to wait and see what actually comes out.  If all this intrusive technology seems a little creepy–you’re right.  We have seen these devices in science fiction shows and movies such as Star Trek and the show Humans.

Upon looking at these new Digital Assistant device videos, I was struck by how life imitates art.  If you’re a fan of any of the Star Trek shows, you know what I’m talking about–the ship’s computer.  Here’s a video that will help refresh your memory if you are having trouble remembering.

Star Trek’s computer montage:

2 other more creepy versions of how Digital Assistants have been demonstrated in science fiction are shown in the movie Her and the TV show Humans.  Her shows what is a fictionalized version of what the future of Digital Assistants could be and how humans could fall in love and have relationships with them.  This is also a theme explored in the show Humans.  Humans seems to focus more on the physical bodies of the robot-like digital assistants.  It also delves into deeper topics such as “What does it mean to be human?” as the title of the show might suggest.

‘Her’ movie trailer:

‘Humans’ TV show trailer:

It looks like we are just at the beginning of seeing how Digital Assistants will affect our lives.  Science fiction has always been around to help show us things that may be possible, and to act as a warning for things we don’t want in our future.  We’ll have to see how the most recent slew of Digital Assistants works out.  I’m looking forward to seeing how they will be able to help us in the future.  And, with the eventual addition of true AI when it becomes available, Digital Assistants may become indispensable to us.


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