Google Home, Amazon Echo, and why you should think long and hard about turning your house into a ‘smart home’
As Google Home goes on sale in the UK, how long will it be before Britain’s homes become truly smart – and do we want them to be?
Amazon Echo finally has a rival.
Google on Thursday launched its internet-connected smart speaker in the UK, giving us another way to control our music and search for information by shouting out commands.
Like Echo, Google Home connects to your WiFi network and can be controlled via an app on your smartphone. But what both these companies are trying to persuade you to do is put your phone down, switch off your screens, and speak to these devices as if they were real people.
It’s not something that comes naturally. After years of typing queries into search engines, we have become conditioned to interact with technology in a certain way.
It doesn’t help that you have to say “Hey Google” – or, in the case of Amazon Echo, “Alexa” – every time you want to get your smart speaker’s attention.
But if you need any convincing that this is how we will communicate with technology in the future, just give one to a young child. In the same way that most kids intuitively understood how to use the iPad’s touchscreen when it was first released, speaking to an artificially intelligent voice assistant just seems to come naturally to them.
Of course, these companies’ sudden interest in developing smart speakers isn’t really about changing the way we use technology. For them, the endgame is about becoming the nerve centre for the smart home.
Right now, that means dimming the lights, turning up the temperature and queueing up Netflix on your smart TV with a few voice commands. But soon we’ll be able to control everything from our washing machines to our front door locks in this way.
We will also become increasingly reliant on these digital assistants to organise our lives – from planning our daily schedules to booking holidays and ordering our weekly groceries.
With the prospect of large amounts of money – and more importantly, personal data – being processed in this way, it’s perhaps no surprise that Google and Amazon are vying for dominance of the smart speaker market.
Amazon has already gone a step further, and started integrating its Alexa software into web-connected appliances such as TVs, fridges, and even cars.
While the idea of reducing the amount of time we spend staring at screens is undoubtedly appealing, it’s impossible to ignore the elephant in the room – that we are essentially bugging our own houses.
Both Amazon and Google strongly object to the notion that their smart speakers are “always listening” but, to an extent, they have to be, in order to respond to your every whim.
The official line from both companies is that, while in standby mode, the speakers are only listening for their “wake words”. It is only after they have been “woken” that Google or Amazon starts recording and processing what is said.
That may help to reassure some, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that the data collected by these devices can be very revealing.
Last year, detectives in the US seized an Amazon Echo speaker as part of a murder enquiry, claiming that if it had been activated – either deliberately or by mistake – on the night the crime was committed, it could give vital insight into what happened.
Forensics experts have also claimed that “smart home” devices such as security cameras, motion sensors and even web-connected kitchen appliances could make up the “crime scene of tomorrow”.
The old adage is that if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear. And, for the most part, that’s probably true.
But with analysts at Ovum predicting that worldwide sales of smart speakers will grow from 5.5 million in 2016 to more than 88 million in 2021, it’s important to keep an eye on the bigger picture.
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)
- Share on Skype (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)