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Voice-recognition tech: The next big thing

Experts predict the use of voice-recognition devices that perform simple tasks will explode in the next few years. Amazon is the leader in the marketplace but Google, Microsoft and Apple are all seeking a share.

Amazon has sold an estimated three million of the devices and is launching sales in Europe. Four Amazon devices – Echo, Dot, Tap and Fire TV – feature Alexa, an artificial intelligence program that has more than 3,000 skills.

Connected to the internet, Alexis can dish up information, check sports scores, and perform math problems, all on verbal request. Users simply voice simple commands such as “Alexa, what’s the score of the Packers vs. the Vikings,” or “Alexa, please search for nearby hardware stores.”

Alexa can also perform simple tasks. For example, in Guitar Tuner, Alexa plays a progression of tones that the user can match in tuning guitar strings. Alexa’s Powerball Number Generator Skill does just that for those who want to play the lottery. Alexa can even suggest dinner table topics with its Conversation Starter skill, which asks a series of questions like “What is your greatest fear?” and “Who do you admire most?”

Alexa can operate smart devices

This year, the program has broadened its utility with links to other smart devices that Alexa can help operate on request.

Amazon has made Alexa programming available to outside developers during the past year, enabling them to integrate services and smart home devices into Amazon’s voice-controlled products.

The move has brought the Food Network, GE, Twitter and KAYAK on board, among others.

For example, users can get show times, recipes and other information from the Food Network just by asking Alexa. A user might just say “Alexa, please send me recipes from the Food Network show I’m watching” and Alexa can send them to a connected computer.

Program operates appliances

Using the name Geneva, users can control connected GE Appliances simply by asking Alexa. For example, a user might say: “Alexa, please ask Geneva to heat the oven to 400 degrees.”

Not sure the car is locked? For certain models, people can use Hyundai’s Genesis program to ask Alexis to tell Genesis to lock the care on remote.

Alexa will also read the user’s Twitter feed on request and help plan a trip on KAYAK.

Other connections in the works are Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football, enabling Alexis to serve of rankings, players’ points and more on voice request. Bloomberg wants to provide stock quotes and other market information and stories from the “Bloomberg Market Minute.”

With an estimated three million devices sold in the United States so far, Amazon is expanding sales of the devices to Europe, starting in October in Austria, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Google, Apple, Microsoft join the competition

While Amazon products are well established, the online giant is not the not the only player in what could become a crowded marketplace of sophisticated voice-recognition, artificial-intelligence programs.

In early October, Google launched its answer Amazon with its Home device. With many of the same capabilities as the Echo, Home is less expensive at $129 compared to $179.99. However Amazon recently launched a smaller Dot device, which costs $49.99.

The Home device, packaged with Google’s own digital assistant technology, is integrated with smart devices from Philips, Samsung and Nest, a division of Alphabet, Inc., the Google parent company.

Apple is also working on a similar device using the Siri voice technology it developed for the iPhone while Microsoft is developing a digital assistant called Cortana.

Will voice replace touch?

Experts predict a future in which more and more tasks will be handled by voice command.

Analyst Mary Meeker predicted sweeping changes in the way people interact with computers and other devices. Meeker, a partner with the venture capital firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said people will do less typing and more talking to their devices as voice-recognition and artificial intelligence technologies become more commonplace and voice search becomes increasingly accurate.

Meeker, in her highly anticipated annual report, said half of all web searches would be made by voice by 2020.

Already, she said, 25 percent of searches on Microsoft’s Bing are voice searches, Siri handles more than one billion request per week via speech, and one in five searches on Android mobile devices use voice.

Meeker said users cite convenience of hands-free, the difficulty of typing on certain devices, and fun as the main reasons for using voice devices.



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