Mike Stone

Mostly The Lonely Howls Of Mike Baying His Ideological Purity At The Moon

A Costly Misconception About Virtual Assistants

03 Oct 2021

We’ve all seen then in their many forms. Alexa. Siri. Cortana. Google Assistant. Mycroft. Others. We know what they look like when we see them, right? They sit on our desks and run on our phones, tablets, and even computers. The problem is, what we see of our “virtual assistants” isn’t really what they are, and that misconception is costing us.

They look familiar don’t they? We see them all the time on TV, in advertisements, and sometimes even in our homes. Virtual assistants.

The problem is, those are not virtual assistants. Those are merely interfaces to a virtual assistant. Your real virtual assistant looks very different.

That’s more what your virtual assistant really looks like, and unless you have a huge desk, it’s not going to fit. The fact of the matter is, even the mundane tasks your average virtual assistant does is too much for the devices those virtual assistants “run” on. Converting speech into a form recognizable to a computer. Determining what the intent of that speech is. Performing an action associated with what that speech. Generating speech output to respond to the source of that speech in a manner they’re familiar with. It all sounds pretty straight forward, but it’s not running on that hockey puck on your desk.

This costs us when it comes to our privacy. It’s not impossible to do all the required tasks for a virtual assistant in the average home, but you’re going to need something a little beefier than what people most often associate with home automation. Because people have gotten used to these low prices, even if the technology was available and simple to use, it would be a hard sell. Seriously, if you’re looking for an assistant to use for home automation, are you going to buy the $25 hockey puck, or are you going to buy a $200 Mycroft unit along with the $800 backend computer to run Selene? One of them costs you $25 and tells advertising companies everything about you. When you sleep. What you eat. What you search for. If you’re sick or well. Your political leanings. Everything. The other costs closer to $1000 and is private.

Most people are going to either choose the $25 dollars, or they’re going to avoid virtual assistants entirely.

There’s a real argument to be made in just avoiding the assistants entirely, but in doing so smaller privacy respecting options can’t stay on the market. When that happens, we’re left with $25 or nothing. I think that’s going to cost us all in the end.

Day 34 of the #100DaysToOffload 2021 Series.

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