back to article Voice assistants failed because they serve their makers more than they help users

We were promised an age of wonders. By 2022 we'd have self-driving cars, robo-maids, even voice-activated "friends" – digital companions to keep us well-informed. What went wrong? We know that the physical world, filled with exceptions and one-off events, continuously confounds even the most able humans. Expecting more out of …

  1. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

    Of course they do -- that's what they're there for. The idea that a middle man exists for the end user's benefit is patent nonsense. It fundamentally exists to rake off a bit of the transaction value for itself.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

      The idea that a middle man exists for the end user's benefit is patent nonsense.

      No it isn't.

      Amazon specifically won their massive market share by being very, very good for consumers. They were often a bit cheaper than shops, but not the cheapest prices on the internet. But they beat the shops because you don't have to go out to get your stuff, and they beat the cheaper websites because they had a vast range all in one place and really good customer service.

      They've become bigger, and their site more user-hostile in my opinion. Search on the site seems designed to show you lots of stuff you probably didn't want in order to merge the original excellent Amazon giant web store with some sort of ebay/Etsy type thing - but the customer service remains good.

      Amazon as a middle man are providing a service to several different sets of clients. Running a web shop at scale isn't that easy, so if you're a manufacturer you may prefer to just concentrate on making stuff. Rather than also doing the messy bits of retail. Customer service is expensive.

      It's a bit like the aritcle author's dig at "late capitalism". Who says it's ending anytime soon? Captitalism isn't how the economy works anyway - it's a description of who owns stuff. The economy is a mixed market economy with varying levels of government intervention in different sectors - and so far nothing better has come along.

      Perhaps voice assistants have so-far failed because of evil capitalist running-dogs? Or perhaps it's just because voice isn't a very good interface for anything at all complex.

      Plus its an integration issue. The makers of the voice kit are all internet companies. But the stuff we want to control is all made by industrial conglomerates - and it takes time for the two to get together and get organised. Which is a similar reason why few of us have home-automation - a lot of the tech has been around for decades - and became very cheap in the last one but that doesn't solve all the practical issues of getting it installed and integrated. Or even just getting people used to the idea.

      1. Captain Hogwash

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        For "late" read "latest".

        1. NoneSuch Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          The middle man in this case, the voice assistant, benefits the corporation more than the end user. It's an intrusion into personal privacy and gives their maker another user data revenue stream.

          Convenience trumps security in this case. (Sorry for using the T word).

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          For "late" read "latest".

          Maybe, but after Sombart coined the term more or less just as a period label, a number of subsequent economists and sociologists did use it in the sense of "end-stage capitalism", often with the millenarian view that capitalism was doomed in the near term.

          Others didn't use it in that sense, though, simply meaning something like "the current stage of capitalism", possibly with a connotation of "which seems to have stopped evolving". Some didn't care for the term at all; Derrida preferred "neo-capitalism" because he thought capitalism wasn't showing any signs of going away. Jameson, whose Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism was influential particularly in US academia, used it in the "latest" sense.

          Then you have the end-of-history types like Hegel and Fukuyama, and Lyotard, and ... well, the phrase gets used in a lot of different ways. Usually it's more or less a gloss on "the way things are now for the middle class in the industrialized world, and maybe for some other people but I'm not going to try to qualify that".

      2. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        "The idea that a middle man exists for the end user's benefit is patent nonsense.

        No it isn't."

        My point was not that they may in fact provide not provide a service -- it was that this is not the middle man's primary motivation. This is confirmed by your own comments that their service deteriorated once they became well established. This is a norm. Although Amazon as a store is not the best example of a middle man. Retail and wholesale are separated by legitimate considerations of bulk versus small volume purchasing power. The pure middle man is indeed exemplified by the "cloud service" firmly attached to your "smart" device.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          My point was not that they may in fact provide not provide a service -- it was that this is not the middle man's primary motivation.

          That's how relationships work in any society larger than a small town. Once it's not possible to know everybody, or even at least know every family group, then our relationships have to change. Because altruism is much less likely to happen at a scale where nobody knows everybody.

          We pay our doctors and surgeons quite well. It has been shown from changes to the British pension system in recent years, that they will withdraw their labour at a certain point if not paid enough. Basically a lot of older consultants were making enough to work part time rather than full time, and a lot were stuffing huge amounts into their pensions because of the lovely tax advantage. When that loophole was closed a bunch of them suddenly switched to part time working. I'm sure that most doctors have a vocation, but it's also a job, and they'll mostly stop doing it if not paid.

          The same is even more true for Amazon. There's not much vocation in retail. Unless it's your dream to run a cupcake shop or something...

          This idea that profit is somehow bad, or dirty, is stupid. We incentivise people to do stuff we want them to do by paying them. Someone has to be a traffic warden, or it would be impossible to drive through town centres because of all the parked cars. Someone has to teach kids, though again there are more people who actually want to do that, somebody has to stack the shelves in our supermarkets. They all want paying.

          I've not been ripped off because someone has got paid to do stuff I want. And the point is, if I don't want it then I probably won't pay. So they actually have to give me a benefit in order to get my money. Unless they're the government, and can threaten to lock me up if I don't pay my taxes...

          Now Google, don't charge for search. But the only way they can harvest all the personal data from Android is to make it roughly as good as the competition, because people acutally pay for their phones. And the same is true for stuff like Alexa. They're trying to get people to pay for a gadget, which means that gadget has got to provide some value. If they want to stay a middle man, they've got to satisfy their customers.

          1. ShadowDragon8685

            Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

            Profit is, in fact, filthy. The question is, whether it's not so dirty that we can't clean it up and have a net gain to society out of it.

      3. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        I largely agree. Except that in the case of voice assistants, not even Amazon is offering a consumer-friendly one.

        If there was an Alexa which had a button to turn the mic on (or I could somehow be convinced that it really wasn't sending anything to Amazon unless I uttered the necessary keyword to wake it up), I might use it. I use Amazon, knowing full well that it is analysing my purchases and sending targetted ads (which I ignore). Voice isn't a great interface for many things, but it is good for some. "Alexa, add tomatoes to the shopping list" would be useful for me - as long as I could later review and change the list before placing an order.

        But the manufacturers all refuse to put a physical mic button on the boxes. That, alone, tells me that I can't trust what they are saying to me about how they work.

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          "But the manufacturers all refuse to put a physical mic button on the boxes. That, alone, tells me that I can't trust what they are saying to me about how they work."

          https://www.wespeakiot.com/echo-mikrofon-taste/

          https://www.wespeakiot.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/alexa-mute-button-960x640.jpg

          https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2019/8/23/20828854/google-home-mini-mute-switch-button-privacy-microphones

          https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/v-cE0p3GiHuzF4DOvLcaSUyXtdE=/0x0:2040x1360/2040x1360/filters:focal(1020x680:1021x681)/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/16615989/akrales_190624_3174_0034.jpg

          1. Helcat

            Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

            Yet on some the 'off' switch is reset on a reboot. This suggests a power cut can unmute a device that was previously muted, and the user might not realise.

            That's why a hard 'switch' is needed: Like the lens cover: If it's closed, it stays closed. If it's open, then it stays open. Killing the power doesn't change the state, and there's no means to change it in software, either.

            So it's always worth while checking if it's a 'software switch' or a 'hardware switch' to make sure your choice persists through powercuts.

        2. Helcat

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          Going to agree. I have a couple of Alexa devices: I use them to control a set of lights for the stairs, to tell the time, occasionally music, and occasionally to update me on some order I'd placed. But mostly they're for the doorbell and cameras as I'm often upstairs, some distance from the front door, so knowing someone's outside is very useful (note: I was very careful to set the activation sensor to within the bounds of my property, not to be triggered by anything further out, thanks.)

          They're okay for what I use them for, but... while having a conversation with my brother by phone, and without saying the key word to wake the darn device, 'Alexa' just chipped in with information about the topic of conversation without being prompted. So anyone who thinks these don't listen and process except to pick up the key word need a wakeup call: They're listening, processing, and can/will respond without the keyword ever being uttered.

          They also activate if someone on a call mentions the keyword, or if it's someone on TV or radio: Be very weary about where they're placed!

          I've also noticed Alexa is pushing more adverts or 'reminders to reorder' and there's an obvious focus on Amazon goods.

          So yes, they're intended for the manufacturer, not the consumer, and the one feature missed is the mic 'off' switch.

          As for voice only: They really missed the trick there. Our main means of communication is visual, followed by sound. So those Alexa with screens might have been more acceptable if they displayed an animated image while communicating. Plus there was a bit let down on video calling: These devices need compatible devices to connect to, and they're not really compatible making that function pretty darn useless. Hence it not being as popular as it might have been.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

            "while having a conversation with my brother by phone, and without saying the key word to wake the darn device, 'Alexa' just chipped in with information about the topic of conversation without being prompted. So anyone who thinks these don't listen and process except to pick up the key word need a wakeup call: They're listening, processing, and can/will respond without the keyword ever being uttered."

            I don't like or use these devices, but you've jumped to the conclusion that they're sneakily listening in when what actually happened is that something you said sounded like the wake word to the basic listening software. Sneaky listening devices don't start answering questions you didn't mean to ask, but devices that incorrectly think that you tried to activate them do. There are privacy concerns, and theoretically their manufacturers could turn them into bugs when they want (research has demonstrated that they're not doing so right now, but that's no guarantee of anything), but your experience has caused you to mistake a bug for evidence that it isn't.

            "the one feature missed is the mic 'off' switch."

            It's a button on the top of each device. Press that and the microphones are disabled. If you are afraid that Amazon's designed them to lie about it, then maybe you have a point (people have checked it in teardowns but I'm not one of them so won't promise anything), but if you distrust Amazon that much, maybe you shouldn't have them at all. I don't trust or have them, and yet I expect that the button to mute the microphones will do exactly that.

          2. JohnQ

            Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

            As a new contributor, I found this topic very interesting. Inquisitive people are skeptical of the voice assistants and rightfully so, but its often the case that those same people will jump right into home automation which is where the real despicable goals reside.

            I was part of a technology working group back in the mid 90's made up of multiple disciplines (electric providers, medical companies, insurance etc). A group of utilities envisioned "helping" the consumer manage their power consumption by identifying what was plugged in to your regular old standard outlet in your home...outlet A has a refrig, outlet B is your TV, outlet C is your alarm clock and so on.

            Now, each of those items has a signature all its own made up of a variety of variables. Your clocks electrical signature is different from that of your fan, which is different than that of your electric toothbrush. Once these signatures are established, with your help, doesnt matter what outlet you plug them into, signature is the same.

            Once everything is all set, the frequency of your fan operation, or the amount of times you open the fridge door is a known variable. Put together, those build a "picture" of you, your habits and lifestyle. So what you say?.

            Every one of the insurance industry member's were VERY interested in that data. You prescribed a CPAP for sleep and youre NOT using it in the privacy of your home?..they know that now. Left the stove on while you "ran" to the store?..they know that too...it goes on and on

            Stay away from any device promising "automation" that requires a 3rd party connection

        3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          "Alexa, add tomatoes to the shopping list" would be useful for me - as long as I could later review and change the list before placing an order.

          Even more than a mic switch issue, the above is the defining action of all "assistive" technology. Despite the massive computing power, they NEVER work the way the user wants them to. You ALWAYS have to change what you do to suit "the computer". There are fewer and fewer customisable options from the OS to the programs and apps. Our way or the highway is the mantra from $corp.

        4. Adrian 4

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          While I agree in principle that a voice assitsant needs a mic button, in practice it would be the last straw in the usability problem if you had to physically turn it on before it would respond to your voice command. This is especially obvious if you're using it to turn the lights on.

          So I'm going to invoke Hanlon's Razor and say that the lack of a button isn't malicious .. but the desire for one does further worsen the argument for having the thing at all.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

      It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        The butcher, the baker and the brewer want to sell us stuff to make money, and we want to buy that stuff to fill our stomachs and enjoy. They don't want to sell our grocery list to some 3rd party advertising group.

        Yet.

        1. Fred Daggy Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          "Yet."

          Wot?

          Been doing it for more than 20 years. Did you ever wonder about the store loyalty cards? Be it a Tesco's card, Flybuys, or a thousand other variations. Tracking at an individual level.

          If you come along with a fat enough wallet, you get access to certain demographics.

          And the consolidated figures get sold on too. They sell to Nielsen (not Lesley and I am serious), and you can look at the sellout of certain products for as many retailers, in as many markets as your budget will cope with. Not ALL sell, but most do and they make a tidy sum doing it.

          1. SundogUK Silver badge

            Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

            Never had one. Never going to have one.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

              If you have an android or Iphone, you have one already

      2. deadlockvictim

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        Adam Smith's point is valid, but not in this case.

        If the butcher was in collusion with the hospital and knowingly sold me meat that would cause me to go to the hospital, I would refuse to buy the butcher's meat. And so it is with Alexa & friends.

        As it is, these devices are wolves in sheep's clothing. Their primary purpose to gain information on you and to sell you more stuff and not the apparent one of making your life that little bit more convenient.

        I would happily buy an Alexa-type device if it could be used locally (that is, without an Internet connection) with a local server and if it didn't phone home all of the time.

    3. oiseau
      Facepalm

      Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

      The users of [here your favourite social/commercial app] aren't its customers – they're the product.

      To me, this has always been basic common sense and have been saying so for the longest while, only to be labelled as being an outdated technophobe.

      Funnily enough, mostly by the same people who sought my help to fix the problems they were having with their PCs/laptops/cellphones.

      I don't use a smartphone and do not send or answer text messages I may receive from anyone.

      I can perfectly well answer the bloody phone and talk, which is what I have it for.

      Even though I have enough spare parts, I realise that I will eventually not be able to use my Blackberry 9320 3G so I may have no choice to eventually get one unless the market provides a reasonable alternative.

      eg: a 4G flip-phone with great battery range, signal strength, no camera and a good way to sync the address book to it's own application, preferably compatible with Linux.

      If push comes to shove and I have to get a smart-phone (most probable scenario), I would make sure it was absolutely devoid of all the crap the things come installed with these days.

      And to think people do home-banking and make purchases on line with the things.

      Ahh ...

      Yes, of course, I forgot: because it is so convenient.

      And free. 8^D !!!

      O.

      1. Yet Another Hierachial Anonynmous Coward

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        " Even though I have enough spare parts, I realise that I will eventually not be able to use my Blackberry 9320 3G so I may have no choice to eventually get one unless the market provides a reasonable alternative.

        eg: a 4G flip-phone with great battery range, signal strength, no camera and a good way to sync the address book to it's own application, preferably compatible with Linux."

        If you come across one, make sure you let us all know here on Reg Central, and make sure you post a review of it too !!

      2. Toni the terrible Bronze badge
        Holmes

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        I have had a smartphone for years, I do not buy anything or do banking on it - it is not that convenient to do so. I do however use my PC to do that, with added security and only because getting to the increasingly rare bank is more difficult for me.

    4. Dinanziame Silver badge

      Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

      To be honest, I think this vastly overestimates what the makers get our of these assistants. Beyond hopefully locking users in their ecosystem, it seems improbable they get anything at all. Even what private data they can scrounge is probably of little value compared to all the others way they get your data.

      Personally, outside of ostensibly using it as a party trick, I only use the Google assistant while driving; that's the only time talking is preferable to touching the screen.

      1. Alumoi Silver badge

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        Why? Can't you pair the phone with the audio system in the car to make and answer calls?

        1. Mark 85

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          Alumoi said: "Why? Can't you pair the phone with the audio system in the car to make and answer calls?

          I look at that as a distraction when I'm drivng. Having a conversation with another person in the car is one thing, but answer the phone, etc. to me is a distraction especially spam calls.

          My sense about these devices is they're more like something from Orwell than something good.

        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          When I had a Windows phone it would talk directly to the car's systems. But now I have an Android it has to connect through Google, there's no direct method. I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

            That's what Bluetooth is for. I've had a number android phones over the years and a number of different company cars. I've never had an issue with using the steering wheel controls to operate the Bluetooth connected Android phone.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        @Dinanziame: "it seems improbable they get anything at all"

        But don't they all happily hoover up full contact data from your address book, calendar entries, etc, though?

        I already refuse to sync any of my phone's data with "cloud" services, because I don't trust them. Yes, yes, they say that slurping all this helps to "better learn from you" and all that crap, but if their voice processing was actually any good, what it should do is return the 'heard' words in text form, and then let your phone find the corresponding match locally (as a simple text match), without any remote slurpage needed?

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          My car and phone does local voice dialling without connecting to anything. The car gets a copy of the phone book and call history. When I press the steering wheel button and say "call $name", the car speaks back to me with "Do you want to call $name?". I say yes, (assuming it got the correct name) and it the car send the Bluetooth commands to dial it for me, no Google or even Samsung speech assistants required . Neither the phone nor the car are high end models. Mid-range at best.

    5. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

      Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

      Just being online... you are not using the internet... you are a product OF the internet.

      Everything you do is tracked, monitored and sold to advertisers for the profit of others. It's why I don;t use social media (although I do use Mastodon now), it's why I will never allow a digital assistant in my home and I have actually asked people to unplug them, when visiting.... Some people get 'really' offended by that... the same ones who happily give over every aspect of their lives to these insidious companies.

      You have to take extreme steps to avoid it, and you can't stop 100% of it, but you can make the information as next to useless as possible.

      I use a VPN, which means a lot of 'services' become unavailable to me... Prime video, bbc iplayer, even some articles in the BBC new/sport sites are unavailable because I have the nerve to try and protect my privacy.

      This website... blocking a lot of trackers and ads... because they became insidious.

      I use firefox, many plugins to thwart as much of this tracking as possible... I sandbox certain sites in their own containers... anything I do with google, is isolated from everything else... same with amazon & ebay. Facebook is blocked at the router level, hosts file and sandboxed... all trackers they have on other sites are contained

      Script blockers used indiscriminately across sites.... build a site that doesn't work unless I enable a load of insidious scripts... bye bye, I won't be back.

      What little that does get out, is next to worthless to those that want it... and if I want to fudge with them a little more... I connect my VPN to a server in say... Sweden, so that any ads that do manage to get through (before being blocked) are in a language I don't read.

      The blame for having to go to these extremes... lies squarely with the ad industry itself... they wanted more, they got greedy.

      If you're not blocking all of this stuff... you're an enabler and facilitator of the problem and should be chided if you ever complain about it.

      1. _andrew

        Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

        > you are not using the internet... you are a product OF the internet.

        The internet isn't an entity though. It's a bunch of independent entities forming something that behaves a bit like a coherent whole by dint of mutually agreeing to run the same set of protocols, and some of the same applications.

        Never confuse the internet with the web, nor the web with any particular corporate web-facing product or service. Category error.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: "... they serve their makers more than they help users"

          "The Internet" (note CAPS) is a collection of wire and switches that allows computers to communicate using an agreed upon collection of protocols known collectively as TCP/IP. There is no "entity".

  2. ian 28

    Lights, FireTV and heating

    Ours are used almost exclusively to turn on plugs (Alexa, turn on the living room lights) or to ask to rewind the firestick by 30 seconds because the wife talked through an important bit, or to ask her (Alexa) to turn on the heating. Oh and the drop in feature is handy for asking the kids to come down for dinner.

    For this, we find it very useful. Maybe we’ve got lazy but it would be pain not to have it nowadays and have to manually turn on a switch!

    Can see how this is of zero benefit to Amazon though

    1. Christopher Reeve's Horse

      Re: Lights, FireTV and heating

      I think the most use our ever got was my children asking it to make animal noises. This then descended into the inevitable burps and farts, which even the kids got bored of this eventually.

      Fundamentally I think they fail because there's no reasoning with them. There's no prior knowledge in the conversation of anything you've previously asked. It makes the same mistakes over and over again, and every instruction is a new separate command.

      One thing I think they're undervalued as is as a basic radio - at least once you've found a station you want there's no more needing to arguing with it.

    2. My-Handle

      Re: Lights, FireTV and heating

      "Oh and the drop in feature is handy for asking the kids to come down for dinner."

      My dad had a similar feature available to him twenty-odd years ago. We called it "bellowing". I can appreciate it - it's strangely satisfying having a good excuse to try and make the whole house rattle with your voice.

      1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: Lights, FireTV and heating

        Heh. We used to have an old bronze ship's bell outside the back door. At dinner time, my mom rang it and we'd come down. Or out of the tree fort in the woods. At least half a mile or better range. No vocal chord straining required.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Lights, FireTV and heating

          Doesn't scale though.

          Which bell is mum's, and which is her down't road?

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Lights, FireTV and heating

            "Which bell is mum's, and which is her down't road?"

            I can hear three of the neighbors variations on the theme. They have a completely different sound to my two ... one is "the dinner bell", a traditional triangle in my case. The other is "emergency", a WWII surplus hand-cranked air-raid siren. This last brings the neighbors running, too (although they know they are welcome to respond to "come and get it!" if they are hungry).

          2. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

            Re: Lights, FireTV and heating

            One other family within earshot adopted the same system. Just count the number of rings.

  3. nematoad
    Big Brother

    Don't know.

    My sister is an electronics gadget freak, you know the type, smart 'phone, smart watch, laptop, firestick, tablets galore, home theatre speaker setup, game consoles and so on.

    She did buy an Amazon Echo and used it for a few weeks, just getting the weather, playing a bit of music and trivial stuff like that. Then I saw that the Echo had been unplugged and now it has disappeared into a drawer somewhere. Unused, unloved and a complete waste of money.

    If someone like my sister has turned against this sort of device when I would say that she was the ideal target for such things than there must be something about them that just turns people off. I have no idea what that would be but it seems as if the makers of these things do not either.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Don't know.

      Speech isn't a great interface. It's fine for simple on-off commands. But then we don't have much home automation. Also what's the point of telling the washing machine or dishwasher to turn on by voice, when you're already standing right next to it to press the button, having just loaded it. Plus you need to select which program to use (probably only 1 of 2 of the 30 on offer...)

      Asking Alexa for the weather is dead easy. But what about the answer? If you're in LA the answer might be hot and blue skies all day plus peak temperature. But if you're in Britain you need to know that it will rain this morning and be sunny this afternoon, with a chance of showers, and a tiny chance of snow overnight. That's much easier to see as a little graph. So you could buy the Amazon Alexa Show (or whatever it's now called) which is a home speaker with a little screen. But why not just get your phone out.

      Again, "Alexa turn on the heating" - easy. Alexa, program the heating to come on at 6am week days, 7am weekends with the thermostat set to 21°. On week days turn it off again at 8, at weekends lower it to 18° after 9 then...

      1. My-Handle

        Re: Don't know.

        Language between people is only as information-dense as it is because the people on either end of the conversation have an appreciation of context. Without that context, you need to fully encapsulate the meaning you're trying to convey within the words you're using.

        An example. If I walk into the living room, look around and say "Dogs?" to my other half, she will realise that I've noticed the dogs aren't around and will respond "They're outside". Or if the dogs are present and looking expectant, she might well say "I'll feed them in a bit". An AI assistant wouldn't even realise it had been spoken to (I didn't prefix my question with a command word), wouldn't realise that I had asked a question (it likely wouldn't pick up on tone), nor would have the context of it's surroundings to make sense of the question. This is a somewhat extreme example (i'd likely be a little more verbose, give a little more context in my question), but it demonstrates the various failings well.

        1. Mike 137 Silver badge

          Re: Don't know.

          "Language between people is only as information-dense as it is because the people on either end of the conversation have an appreciation of context."

          Yes indeed. This is the fundamental point that the entire commercial AI community seems to have completely missed. We haven't even remotely developed any way to impart the massive complexity of context that we as humans take for granted into the training of the automaton. I have a feeling that doing so effectively would be a very hard task, as the human capacity is built on accumulation of observations related to personally significant outcomes for our entire waking lives. An automaton can not experience personally significant outcomes, it can only observe, not relate to what it observes.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't know.

        Good to know that you keep your phone in your pocket round the house...mine tends to get left on whatever table was nearest when i walked in the door because I need something else, other than glasses, keys and wallet, to misplace regularly. If I ask Alexa for the weather she gives me current and likely min max for the day, plus chance of rain. Not perfect but good enough for a decision on how many layers and degree of waterproofness 90% of the time. And as for heating..good to know you are a creature of regular habits!

      3. Sean Houlihane

        Re: Don't know.

        I have a connected oven. The advantage is that the clock is always right (unless there was a powercut, then I need to re-enable network time in the phone app), and the timer is relayed to my phone. It's effectively impossible to configure by voice (pre heat being the obvious use case, as I head to the freezer). Automation could be the best use case, but even this is mostly broken.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Don't know.

          It doesn't set the clock after a powercut?

          I adjust the clock on the cooker twice a year or after a power cut.

          Cutting out the twice a year isn't worth the hassle of needing a phone app.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Don't know.

            It doesn't remember the right time after a power cut? How last century?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

          A "smart" fridge should reliably send notifications if the door was open, or if temps went outside safe limits. Instead they download and display ads, and try to track your purchases and route you their preferred online ordering app.

          A "smart" thermostat usually can't integrate with window fans, sun shades, or any other systems except the combined heater/AC core, and is blithely unaware of the outside temp, so it will happily try to cool the inside via AC to drop the temp from 79F to 75F when the air outside is already 70F.

          Most "smart" TVs just have broken versions of apps that you already can run off 4 other devices that are already hooked to the TV. They stop working after a couple of years even though the TV is fine, but will gladly phone home if you are foolish enough to connect them to the internet. And the TV now takes forever to start up. Brilliant.

          Almost none of them let you disable the "smart" interface, even when it stops working, and just use the features of the dumb part of the device, aka the whole reason you bought it in the first place. Smart is dumb, peace is war, freedom is slavery yada orwellian yada.

          Why are we doing this to ourselves again?

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

            "Why are we doing this to ourselves again?"

            Who is "we", Kemosabe?

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

              In this case, the generic "we" as in society. Some of this tech is becoming impossible to avoid simply by attrition. A device breaks, the only replacements available are "connected" or "smart" and, as documented in some cases, will only work when they are connected to the internet. Plain and simple "dumb" devices are getting harder and harder to find on sale anywhere. Most of us here know how to hold out, repair the older kit, avoid so-called "smart" kit from phoning home etc, but it's becoming a losing battle because the majority either love all this shit or simply don't care. Even on your ranch, there will eventually come a day when the only tractor you can get will be "smart" tractor. Although in that instance, it's probably a lot further away in time than for small electricals. (On the other hand, what if the use of ICE engines is banned in say 30 years time? Could be sooner than you think :-))

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                "Even on your ranch, there will eventually come a day when the only tractor you can get will be "smart" tractor."

                Considering I just bought a 70 year old Farmall Super M in working condition, that day will be long after I'm pushing up daisys.

                "On the other hand, what if the use of ICE engines is banned in say 30 years time?"

                Won't happen. Any politician that suggests banning the family heirloom Mustang/Camero/'57 from the open road will be tarred and feathered and run out of town on the rail. And the bastards know it, too.

                With that said ... If they do manage to ban all ICE engines, I'll switch to running my ECE engines. The current fleet includes a couple of working Case traction engines.

                1. deadlockvictim

                  Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                  Instead no new vehicles with ICEs will be produced after a certain point and the price of petrol will be sky high on account of its relative scarcity.

                  That certain point might be 2050 but I do think that it will happen with the next two generations.

                  Just be sure that your children/grandchildren have a large reserves of fuel onhand for your Mustang.

                  1. jake Silver badge

                    Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                    We grow the fuel. My "Mustang" is a Cougar, and she runs on corn (maize to you Brits). Running the car is a net carbon sink ... The corn pulls carbon out of the air, and the car only returns some of it. The rest stays in the ground.

                    4V 351 Clevelands really, really like running on ethanol.

                  2. Grunchy Silver badge

                    Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                    “…relative scarcity of petroleum…”

                    Hmm you might not be aware of just how much petroleum we have in Alberta’s tarsands.

                    Agreed, the “tar” consistency makes it impossible to harvest unless it’s melted first.

                    Canada has been threatening to set up a Candu reactor nearby simply for the waste heat generated, to be exploited to melt tarsands for export.

                    Petroleum will become obsolete long before it ever runs out…

                  3. jake Silver badge

                    Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                    "Instead no new vehicles with ICEs will be produced after a certain point and the price of petrol will be sky high on account of its relative scarcity."

                    Actually, I rather suspect that if they stop making ICE vehicles, he price of gasoline will plummet due to a major glut on the market. Really, think about it ... We will still be pulling the same amount of crude out of the ground, because we use it for so many other things. Do you really think they will simply dump the vehicle fuel fractions? Sure, some of it will no doubt be used for other things ... but all of it? Nah. Ain't going to happen.

                    And note that many ICE engines are made today that aren't destined for the new vehicle market. As long as there is a rolling chassis and a motor to put into it, somebody will.

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                      Dream on. The price will soar, because, sensibly, we will tax it like we tax cigarettes.

                      1. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

                        Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                        Will not happen.

                        Eventually the worlds population will realize the lie that is Climate Change. When the worlds ecomonies collapse due to the unavailability of energy because there is no reliable "clean enegry", the poeple will throw these tyrants into the "lake of fire!". We've seen this over and over in human history.

                        We see the signs now, Germany telling people to "only use your electric car to go to work and back", France opening up coal power plants.

                        Climate Change is the greatest scam pulled on humanity since communism. Like all scams, it will collapse under the weight of its own lies!

                  4. Terry 6 Silver badge

                    Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                    The USA's love of the internal combustion engine might mean that production for local use and a small export market would persist. But at what cost.

                    Much of the rest of the world will reduce or ban sale of ICE vehicles over time f and manufacturers will mostly be producing electric vehicles

                2. Michael Strorm Silver badge

                  Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                  > ICE engines

                  Internal combusion engine engines?

                  1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                    Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                    LOL, yes. oops :-)

              2. jake Silver badge

                Re: Yeah, smart appliances are DUMB.

                "In this case, the generic "we" as in society."

                What? You think there is only one?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "We had every reason to expect better outcomes"

        "We had every reason to expect better outcomes in the purely symbolic worlds of information, knowledge and communication"

        I pulled this quote out because it points to one of the main failures of voice assistants. The persistent myth that human language can be mapped by machines to functional instructions in a generalized way. Amazon mage this mostly work, but they had to do do it by brute force, using an army of humans to build and maintain the ability of Alexa to handle it's many skills. Everyone else tried (and failed) to solve the problem by ML.

        They failed because, much like chewing your way through a reinforced concrete wall, the problem is intractable with the tools they are trying to use.

        The structure of "natural language" has been studied extensively, and unfortunately it is provably intractable when applied to general computing. So you can try to allow people to interact with a system using an inherently unreliable, imprecise and non-deterministic grammar, resulting in some of the hardest classes of computing problems, or you can bloody train your users to use a specific and limited command syntax that is less ambiguous.

        But managers and pundits(and too many programmers) would rather have the ant carry the elephant, and wonder why they(predictably) can only manage inconsistent and mediocre results.

        I feel like you have offered some of the better comments here, and your case with the thermostat is a spot on example of where the breaking point hits. Simple unambiguous statements work, but then you hit scheduling or anything past the most basic first order logic, and it all falls down. You can make a voice interface for a schedule, but you are probably going to want to drop into a menu, and have to code the prompts and responses so that is in bite sized chunks, and probably reads back what it though you meant and allows for corrections. Otherwise you risk getting lost in a game of "who's on first". Once you do all that you have accomplished making a task that could be completed in 10 seconds on a touch screen into a 3-4 min conversation. To be fair, that could also be true if you were telling a person to set the schedule by the same touch screen, but hewing back to your examples it's why product designers need to make intelligent choices about what should and shouldn't be set by a voice prompt, and when settings can be changed and by whom. No good will likely come from your voice command system being triggered by a radio or video signal.

        Though the thought of running ads on all the trash talk radio shows that changed the radio station to something less mentally toxic is kind of amusing...

      5. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Don't know.

        Speech isn't a great interface. It's fine for simple on-off commands.

        I don't even like it for that.

        I think the first voice-recognition UI I ever tried was the one bundled with OS/2 Warp. I found that uninteresting after perhaps half an hour of playing with it. It wasn't a question of capability. I don't like talking to machines, and speech is a lousy input mechanism. My wife doesn't like voice interfaces either. We had a Fire Stick for television streaming for a few years, and neither of us ever used the voice interface.

        The kids have Alexa devices in several rooms of their house. They use it, and so do the grandkids. I still don't see the appeal. I'll always take physical controls over touchscreens, and even the loathed touchscreens over voice.

        But then I'm the sort of person who finds it difficult to sit still for long, so I'd rather get up and turn the light on at the wall switch anyway.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Don't know.

      "Unused, unloved and a complete waste of money."

      Clearly, she doesn't listen to the exhortation of the BBC. They have always done "station idents" telling you the frequency to tune to. It used to be medium and long wave. Then it was medium wave, FM and, for Radio 4, also long wave. Then it was usually only FM and DAB. Nowadays, they ALWAYS start be telling us to "ask your smart speaker to play...", followed by DAB and maybe FM as a sort of afterthought. BBC radio is making an assumption that everyone has a smart speaker and implying "if not, why not?"

      Two Four Seven Radiooooo Oneeeeeee! (Just showing my age!)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Don't know.

        "Two Four Seven Radiooooo Oneeeeeee! (Just showing my age!)"

        Ah, but do you remember John Peel pretending to be a "real DJ" and playing "Radiooooo Oneeeeeee! Good Morning!" and a couple other pre-recorded sound checks, followed by his official Radio1 name check, and then dedicating a song to one Graham Caddis, of Ardrossan in Ayrshire? The song was Penetration's "Life's a Gambol", so roughly late 1978.

        Was the only time Peel played his name check on-air. Was funny, still makes me smile. Somehow I managed to record it.

      2. Toni the terrible Bronze badge
        Big Brother

        Re: Don't know.

        My Smartspeaker, Amazon ver, doesnt let me play BBC Radio except the World Service - which is why I still have actual radios.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Don't know.

          Apparently you need to install the "BBC Sounds Skill" and then log in with your BBC account.

          More here.

          So you can't just tell it to play BBC Radio 4. You have to tell it to play BBC Sounds and then from their choose the radio station or from the library etc. which sounds a bit of a faff to me. I have no experience with smart speakers. Maybe once you have the correct "skill" set up you can teach it bookmarks or shortcuts? Surely they thought of that when designing the interface, didn't they?

  4. Filippo Silver badge

    I strongly doubt that voice assistants are sitting unused because people are instinctively resisting profiling. People don't seem to be instintively resisting profiling when using Google, or Facebook, or indeed anything else.

    Rather, I think the problem is simply that they just don't have that many uses. Most of the use cases that their developers thought out can be accomplished both faster and more reliably with a screen and keyboard.

    Look at what the two common voice assistant tasks are. "Play music" and "Set a timer" are requests that are useful when I'm busy doing something else away from my device. I.e., they are tasks not worthy of my primary attention. Also, they are both tasks where if the voice assistant screws up, I can immediately tell (when I hear the first few notes, or when it reads back the timer wrong) and I've lost nothing - not even the five seconds enunciating the query, because, as mentioned, I was doing something else anyway. There just aren't that many tasks with that profile.

    Why would I ask Assistant to search Google for something, when I can get the results faster by typing the query AND without wasting time repeating it three times until the voice recognition gets it right?

    Why would I ask Alexa to buy something on Amazon, when I can search Amazon faster on the website AND without risking ordering the wrong thing by mistake?

    I bet that the reason Apple didn't actually make the Knowledge Navigator, and the reason they didn't bet the farm on Siri, is that if there's one thing Apple is good at, it's UX engineering. They understand that if you give users a really cool way to do in ten seconds something that can be done in five seconds in the boring old way, they'll switch back to the boring old way in an hour.

    What voice assistants need in order to actually get used is to be like a real live PA. Someone who, when asked to Google something, will not just Google what I said and read the first hit, but also know from previous context what I'm really looking for, then read through the query results, refine the query and exclude irrelevant hits, collate the information and present it to me in a synthetic fashion. Someone who, when asked to buy a gizmo, will not just search Amazon and order the first hit for 'gizmo', but know the specific details I want, search results to find a gizmo that matches them, do price-comparison, read reviews and figure out which ones are reliable, and pick the most convenient shipping option based on my schedule.

    ChatGPT looks like it could do that at first glance... but it can't. First of all, a model like ChatGPT is trained once and does not learn further after training. Sure, it can tell you about WW2, but go ask it about something that happened the day before yesterday; it won't know. And retraining is computationally extremely expensive.

    Secondly, ChatGPT always sounds convincing, but is actually wrong a lot. Fine for a laugh, but I wouldn't trust it to do anything that I actually want to get right.

    In short, voice assistants are a no-starter until we actually have strong AI. I'm not holding my breath.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Alexa, create 10 El Reg comment accounts and upvote the above post from each.

      1. My-Handle

        Alexa:

        Sorry, I'm having trouble understanding you right now

        1. SotarrTheWizard

          Re: Alexa:

          Alexa, open the Pod Bay Doors. . . .

          . . .and Alexa **will** answer.. . .

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Alexa:

            The phrase "pod bay doors" does not appear to be in my lexicon.

            Fine, I had to modify the quote a bit, but it's a lot more likely to be what Alexa would say. It was originally "cargo bay doors". I'm going now.

            1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

              Improve your lexicon here.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Similarly, I want express my high regard for Filippo's post above, well reasoned, good examples, cheerful style.

      His conclusion is concise, and think I largely agree with it - for some values of Useful [Personal Assistant] and of Strong [AI]. It is possible that useful applications for voice recognition could become widely adopted, not by an advance in the AI but by better curation of the data sources it uses. The present situation is that even a real human personal assistant, if asked to book trip for their boss, must know to ignore the first Google result and avoid other traps. This human PA would have an easier time of it if the only results returned were from a whitelist of ten travel operators that their boss had previously approved.

      So, say that a virtual personal assistant was actually owned by the user (it only ran on the user's hardware, didnt share data it shouldn't) and the user could modify this virtual PA, teach it, correct it on which data sources it uses... maybe some genuinly useful applications with emerge.

      My guess is that they will emerge in environments other than offices, for in an office you already have a keyboard at your fingertips. People who are driving do not, nor do people with food on their hands; play music, start timer. Or surgeons. A sewing machine uses a foot pedal because the operator's hands are full of cloth.

      I think the trend to on-device processing may have begun, anyhows.

    3. Mast1

      Unexpected input..... to the human

      My mother is registered blind, so she received an Alexa as part of a support package.

      Sounds like a good technology solution.

      Being blind she needs to have a good memory of where things are, and "who is in the house" is part of that.

      When she thinks she is alone a dismbodied voice croaks for input, possibly from a room she is not in.

      That is very disturbing, especially if elderly and frail.

      It lasted about 2 weeks before she pulled the plug.

      Tehnology that does not take into account psychology is doomed to low uptake.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Unexpected input..... to the human

        Mast1,

        There is an upside to the current explosion of tech gadgets. Stuff that was expensive is now ubiquitous. 15 years ago you could buy a smartphone sized unit that was a screen with camera attached to magnify text for users with very poor eyesight. They were £800 each. Nowadays you can do the same with a £50 smartphone.

        The difference is the expensive device also had the camera on a little wheeled pod with a light, so you could run it over a page without moving the screen. And had software to change the colours to improve contrast - though the magnifier app on my phone has that software. Fifteen years ago I didn't buy that magnifier, because it wasn't worth it, and I had various much cheaper hand magnifying glasses - nowadays my smartphone isn't quite as good at the job, but is also effectively free because I'd have had one anyway. I don't know if you can still buy the low vision aid kit - given it's being competed with by something that's cheap but mostly good enough.

        If your Mum found the voice assistant helpful the answer is to get her one activated by a button. So it only talks to her when she expects it. But I don't know if Alexa devices could be made to only work that way. Siri can be, on an iPhone - Google Assistant could also be set up to respond if the button was pressed. But that presumes she could find a convenient way to use the phone.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Unexpected input..... to the human

          Physical buttons appear to be disappearing, because touchscreens are cheaper.

          But touchscreens have no tactile feedback, you cannot find a button by touch.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Unexpected input..... to the human

            Which is a very dangerous trend when seen in cars.

        2. Mast1

          Re: Unexpected input..... to the human

          Yes, she has all the magnifiers, readers etc. The house is cluttered with them, but they have their phases of usefulness as her vision declines.

          She started using computers about 35 years ago, after she had retired. Despite being retired that makes her an early adopter. Yet that was relatively too late. In my field we see the need for people to adopt certain technologies to combat the onset of disabilities, for which currently they will wait a further 10 years before seeking the technology. By that stage the chances of getting them to adopt it as part of their regular life (as easy as putting on a pair of socks) is declining.

          So two questions for the "technology can solve the problem" crews

          (a) is it as easy to adapt to as putting on a pair of socks ? [1]

          (b) does it introduce concepts that are alien to their previous life experience ?

          If the answer is yes to either then be prepared for low uptake.

          [1] With apologies to those hipsters who still only wear sandals with no socks, even in the current UK weather.

    4. doublelayer Silver badge

      I think you have a better idea of this than the article does. I don't have any devices intended for voice use, but I do occasionally use the voice interface on my phone. Here are the commands I issue:

      1. Call [person].

      2. Set a timer.

      3. What will the weather be today.

      4. (rarely) Send a message to [person].

      The first one is designed to save time finding the person in my contact list. The second and third are similarly reducing the time and mostly used when I'm doing something else with my hands. And that's all I need it for, meaning a tiny model that recognizes pre-defined phrases would be just as capable as a conversational bot with thousands of scripts written.

      There is one aspect where the obviousness of the manufacturer's influence might cause a problem. I know someone who has an Alexa device and occasionally asks it to play music, but they don't have whatever Amazon's best music service is. This means that, when they ask it to play something, the device usually responds by informing them that they can't get it, but they could if the user buys a subscription. It will then read out the standard information about the subscription, such as that there is a free trial, how long it lasts, that it would renew automatically, and what the cost of that is. You have to wait for its thirty-second speech to end before you can tell it no. I'm not surprised that this person has put the device in a drawer and never turns it on now.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Dilemma...

      Some roles can only be solved by a genuine intelligence and, once we create those, do we have the moral right to enslave them? If you were an AI capable of performing like a real live PA, would you like being an unpaid one, trapped in someone's home, dying of boredom? But, OTOH, if you weren't smart enough to perform like a PA, you wouldn't be useful enough.

      I have a high regard for many PAs by the way as, in my experience, they do 90% of the work of the CEOs who employ them.

  5. Aaiieeee
    Unhappy

    The same applies to tv series and games

    Series exist to make the creators money, NOT to tell a story. This is evident when they set out with no end in sight and either run out of budget and have to rush a conclusion (if you get one), or flop so hard at the end because there was no overarching story. I started watching Foundation and felt intellectually insulted by the end of the season*, it was so frustrating. Walking dead was padded so hard with filler episodes. etc

    Started playing Death Stranding and near the beginning during a cut scene three Monster energy drinks are on a table - in some futuristic post apocalyptic society?? I can't un-see it and it pulls me straight out of the fantasy to remind me that the purpose of this game is to make money, not to tell a story (even though its been paid for!?). Again, felt insulting.

    It is so hard to find tech that is geared towards the users' benefit, even if paid for. I wanted to enjoy this stuff so hard

    Books are still a refuge

    * it was brilliant till about episode 8 when the writers suddenly went 'oh shit, we need to wrap this up' and suddenly everything that happened before was irrelevant. They closed off all the tension built to that point and now have a nice clean slate for season 2. Rather than telling a story it fell into the seasonal story arc theme which fits around budgeting, not storytelling. Having not read Foundation I don't know what happens and whilst this may follow the books, it was a shit way to experience it.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: The same applies to tv series and games

      I have some bad news I'm afraid, the Foundation books and Foundation TV series are only really related by the title and the names of some of the characters.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The same applies to tv series and games

        ... which is OK, because whether there is another foundations series or not, is really irrelevant. I had the same impression watching series 1, only worse, because I had read the books (ages ago). I was impressed with the series... 'watchable' aspect, i.e. settings, landscapes, etc., the acting was quite professional (most of them tried hard and respect for that), the plot was... I never really bothered to match it to what I vaguely remembered from the books, and I knew it would be shit simply because the show must go on, i.e. several loose ends to continue in series 2, should the decision-makers make the decision. This 'plotting' is so evident in tv series, that it puts me off letting be captured, as I do with books. With books (other than serialized crap) they try to sell you a story. With tv series, they try to sell you drugs and see if you get hooked so they can keep selling more of the same. Fuck them.

        1. DryBones

          Re: The same applies to tv series and games

          Oh-ho-ho.

          I guess you don't want to know about seralized books, then.

          https://www.postandcourier.com/free-times/arts/publishing-a-book-a-chapter-at-a-time/article_955bd313-b7ef-5426-a1ac-1682ff8047aa.html

      2. KarMann Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: The same applies to tv series and games

        I almost wanted to downvote you for a moment there, in a shoot-the-messenger sort of way. Thanks for the heads-up, though.

      3. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: The same applies to tv series and games

        > I have some bad news I'm afraid, the Foundation books and Foundation TV series are only really related by the title and the names of some of the characters.

        I'd have thought that was good news for @Aaiiee, since the TV adaptation which he didn't enjoy won't ruin the books for him when he comes to read them. :)

        Having read the books (yep, all of them including the bolt-on prequels) I'm not sure how a strictly faithful TV adaptation could work, so I gave this show's creators some dramatic licence.

        The other good news for fans of what the Foundation books can evoke, namely awe at the scale of a Galactic empire ruled from a city planet, is that other recent film and TV projects have portrayed similar settings. That's is, Denis Villeneuve's Dune move and the Andor TV show.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: The same applies to tv series and games

          My favourite quote: Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent :)

          I think I've also read the lot. I'm not entirely sure about the prequels but I have read the one where Harry wanders around Trantor.

          I've also read The End of Eternity which he later claimed was part of the series and would therefore be the ultimate prequel since the result of that book is a rebuilding of time resulting in the Foundation Universe.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The same applies to tv series and games

      Books are still a refuge

      Sadly writers of books have adopted the same technique. I've lost count of series where you can see exactly when the author realised (s)he was on a winner, and started churning out long books of episodic tales which didn't advance the story, and left all the characters neatly lined up at the end for the next sequel. Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks are two that come to mind.

      1. DishonestQuill

        Re: The same applies to tv series and games

        Of the many complaints you can level at Robert Jordan, I wouldn't have thought of that one.

        Best example of a current series stretched out for cash has to be the Dresden Files. Damn but that is dragging on

        1. cray74

          Re: The same applies to tv series and games

          Best example of a current series stretched out for cash has to be the Dresden Files. Damn but that is dragging on

          I'd vote for the Honorverse novels by David Weber as the posterchild of milking a series for a paycheck. While the Dresden Files are running long, Jim Butcher is keeping the writing animated and engaging. Most of the current Honorverse novels have become lifeless: when the good guys or villains sit around a table and discuss Big Plot Points the books don't have dialogue. Instead, their "dialogue" consists of chapter-long political or military analyses. The lively character interactions of the first few books like "A Short Victorious War" are gone and the new books read like a machine churned them out for the next paycheck.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: The same applies to tv series and games

            "Instead, their "dialogue" consists of chapter-long political or military analyses."

            Heinlein went through that phase too. Some of his books are little more than a series of short political or social comment essays with some "plot characters" added to make it seem like a novel. :-)

      2. RichardBarrell

        Re: The same applies to tv series and games

        > Sadly writers of books have adopted the same technique

        It's older than Charles Dickens! He did it and he did not invent it. :)

    3. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: The same applies to tv series and games

      Even books. The Great American Novel has been too long, and full of extraneous details, random plot digressions and vast armies of unneeded characters for decades. Because then they can charge more. More recently the fantasy novel ( one volume) is spun out to a "saga" ( at least three volumes) and no book ever resolves anything without a few dangling threads- not even the final volume because there may be a second saga in it.

      1. Ace2 Silver badge

        Re: The same applies to tv series and games

        My favorite is the fantasy novel trilogy where the author gets bored and wanders off after two novels.

        1. My-Handle

          Re: The same applies to tv series and games

          Terry Pratchett definitely had the right idea there, in my opinion. Each book largely stood by itself as a story, but each also added to the setting. There wasn't really an over-arching plot to the Discworld books, because the Discworld wasn't itself a story. It was a world, and a gloriously rich one.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: The same applies to tv series and games

            Compare that to Raymond bloody Feist ( Magician etc). I recently read a really thick volume from one of his more recent output, I hadn't noticed the word "saga" on the cover, ( borrowed from the library). By the time I got to the end of vol 1 not a lot had happened for a book that thick. I looked at the blurb for vol 3 and realised that still not much had happened, despite vol 2 being also rather large. Just thought fuck it and found some proper books.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The same applies to tv series and games

      Foundation? Is this from Isaac Asimov's books?

  6. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge

    My voice assistant doesn't understand me....

    Like the author of the article I can see no real pont in "Hey Google", "OK Siri" or whatever you have to use to wake up the Microsoft offering - for anything other than 'ok google, turn on the christmas lights'.

    The voice recognition (for me) is fairly inaccurate and so I spend more time yelling at the assisant for failing to carry out a verbal instruction, that even my 3 year old would understand, than I would opening an app and doing the same thing using my fingers.

    1. Whitter
      Coat

      Re: My voice assistant doesn't understand me....

      It is traditional at this point in a forum chat to add the following link

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMS2VnDveP8

      1. zappahey

        Re: My voice assistant doesn't understand me....

        "It is traditional at this point in a forum chat to add the following link

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMS2VnDveP8"

        I'm not even going to click that link but I will point out that last night I said "Alexa, lights aff" and she understood.

    2. ITMA Silver badge

      Re: My voice assistant doesn't understand me....

      " spend more time yelling at the assisant for failing to carry out a verbal instruction"

      I find exactly the same thing with voice controlled phone menu systems to the point where almost the only thing I ever say to (or more increasingly scream at) them without hanging up is "Agent".

      If I'm phoning up a company about something, I wasn to speak to a human being, not some f***ing bit of poxy software that understands sweet FA.

      1. KarMann Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: My voice assistant doesn't understand me....

        Good luck getting the American-programmed systems to recognise what you mean by 'sweet FA.'

    3. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: My voice assistant doesn't understand me....

      I suppose that's less likely to lead to divorce than the traditional "my wife doesn't understand me"

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: My voice assistant doesn't understand me....

        My barmaid at the local bar doesn't understand me.

        1. ITMA Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: My voice assistant doesn't understand me....

          I think that is directly proportional to how much falling down water you have had....

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: My voice assistant doesn't understand me....

          Mine does and my girlfriend told me to go for it, probably because she thinks the bartender will still tell me 'no.'

  7. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Bandwidth

    > voice assistants were never designed to serve user needs. The users of voice assistants aren't its customers – they're the product.

    While I enjoy a bit of tinfoil-hattery as much as every other paranoid nervous wreck, I think the actual answer is much simpler.

    Voice interfaces are too slow. To compound that problem, they are inherently sequential - even worse than video.

    An average person listens (for example to an audio book) at about 150 words a minute. 5 letters to the average word and that's 100 bits per second.

    People read at nearly double that speed and even better, we can skip all the boring (or irrelevant) parts.

    The one benefit that audio does have is that it does not require the user to be focused on the task in the same way as looking at a page or screen does. Hence it is handy for alerts (which could well be what hearing was evolved for) and for giving short, precise, commands. But once you get more than one person speaking at a time, while people can filter that - albeit with some effort - it seems that the machines cannot.

  8. lvm
    Devil

    nonsense

    So voice assistants where mysteriously and instinctively rejected? Sorry to prick this bubble, but there is no mystery in that, and it has nothing to do with our instinctive concern for our privacy - the same people are cheerfully using facebook and such which are a much bigger privacy sinkhole. The truth is that voice assistants are rejected because they fail dismally at all but simplest of tasks. The best they can do is, instead of learning to understand your language, to train YOU to say specific phrases to get certain results - just like using a programming language with a fixed syntax. As PAs they are complete and utter crap.

    Oh, and disabling google apps' access to the microphone is a very good idea.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: nonsense

      "train YOU to say specific phrases to get certain results - just like using a programming language with a fixed syntax

      And just like the "new UI" which forces you to click on a new and unfamiliar set of icons concealed on unmarked pop-up lists at random points on the screen.

      All these issues are inevitable outcomes of handing engineering problems with ergonomic considerations to self-congratulatory whizz kids who know nothing about either engineering or ergonomics.

    2. aidanstevens

      Re: nonsense

      Not buying one of the infernal, dystopian machines in the first place is an even better idea.

  9. mjgardner
    FAIL

    This is a bad take

    How exactly does Apple use Siri data? Why lump them in with Amazon and Google?

    Ad company and retail company create services to serve their ad and retail businesses. Film at 11.

    1. Andy Baird

      Re: This is a bad take

      Thank you, mjgardner, for pointing out the major flaw in this article: it lumps Siri in with Alexa and Google. These services are based on completely different business models. Siri is not a "data harvesting nightmare". Siri's users are not its product. Those statements apply to Amazon and Google, whose assistants exist solely to collect data about users. Of course they don't serve users' needs well; that's not what they were built for.

      The recent headlines about how Alexa is a "colossal failure" because it "never managed to create an ongoing revenue stream" are typical. You'll never see a headline like that about Siri, because Siri was never intended to create a revenue stream or harvest user data. Its purpose is to make Apple devices more useful for their owners, so that they'll want to buy more Apple devices. To the extent that it succeeds, it helps Apple's bottom line, but the same could be said about anything the company does to improve its devices and make them more desirable.

      It's a mistake to tar these three assistant services with the same brush. The writer should know better.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: This is a bad take

        "because Siri was never intended to create a revenue stream or harvest user data."

        Keep telling yourself that, Sunshine. Saint Jobs of Marketing would approve.

      2. DryBones

        Re: This is a bad take

        Why has Apple got an Ads service, again? :)

  10. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge
    Joke

    They don't do Scottish accents

    Mandatory viewing

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbDnxzrbxn4

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not trusty

    Something smart enough to be engaging and friendly and helpful, while at the same time profiling, analyzing and nudging ...

    I'm sure there are many different reasons for people to drop or not use voice assistants, but that quote must account for a lot. Replace "something" with "someone", and you have the sort of person that you avoid once you realise that they are trying to manipulate or con you.

    If a machine pretending to be a human is to be successful, it should at least behave like the sort of human that people can trust - one that doesn't have an agenda, and understands the meaning of confidentiality.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not trusty

      like the sort of human that people can trust - one that doesn't have an agenda, and understands the meaning of confidentiality

      Would you expect to find such people at Apple or Google?

      1. Sp1z

        Re: Not trusty

        > Would you expect to find such people at Amazon or Google?

        FTFY

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Not trusty

          "Would you expect to find such people at Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon or Google?"

          FTFY

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Not trusty

      "If a machine pretending to be a human is to be successful, it should at least behave like the sort of human that people can trust"

      I don't think this is their problem. Something that sounds like a human, could do things, but also slipped in some advertisements would probably do much better. Right now, the problem is that the machine isn't pretending to be a human. It refers to itself in the first person from time to time, but it acts robotic, doesn't remember anything, and gives the same scripted responses to almost everything you could say. Talk to one for three minutes and it becomes really obvious how not human it is, and talk for another five and you learn that it's not a robot that can actually do anything very useful. I'd like it if people automatically rejected such things on privacy grounds or even had a subconscious feeling that something's manipulative here, but in reality, I think they just discover that the device is a curiosity at best and that they don't need one after all.

  12. Whitter
    Flame

    "finding became restricted to commercially advantageous search results"

    Sad that all challengers to the search crown, a tarnished and tawdry bauble, have followed the same "screw the end user" design as Google

  13. Richard Gray 1
    Joke

    The real reason why voice activated is rubbish

    I can so believe this:-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwPtcqcqz00

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzSzkAuKPe0

    and never forgetting

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbDnxzrbxn4

  14. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Last night I was dwelling on the very relevant topic of using something as 'intelligent' as Chat.GPT in Alexa or Siri or Google. Yeah, it would be great to be able to actually use these assistants in a natural, non-consistent way, asking questions, getting things turned off or on, or even providing ideas and inspiration.

    One of the problems with that as I see it is complexity. I'm sure it takes a lot more resources to keep something the equivalent of chat.GPT running for every iPhone user than to keep Siri running. And it's a lot less predictable. I've seen too many examples of chat.GPT being totally and utterly inept (ask it what 5+5 is, and tell it, "no, it's not 10, it's 11" and see how weird things get) and just plain wrong in its answers. Sure, it's right *most* of the time, but when it's wrong, it makes you wonder how these things are going to work if they were ever in control of anything.

    I use my Alexa mainly to ask for the weather, set timers, turn lights off and on, add to a shopping list, and ask it how old actors are when we are watching a film. I use Siri mainly for setting alarms and timers, checking the weather and as a dictation device for sending quick messages to people. These are simple applications that are predictable. It'll either know or not know an answer. It'll possibly mishear an instruction. But It's not going to accidentally drive 300 miles to a post office when I asked it to nip down the road and buy some stamps, because it can't do that sort of thing yet. I'll be scared when it can.

  15. jmch Silver badge

    Voice control

    I had rudimentary voice controls (which basically amounted to 'call the number of this contact') on my phone (not even a smartphone) close to 2 decades ago. The convenience of being able to do some things just by voice, is a very interesting and useful feature. However 2 things to note - (1) all the voice processing was done locally. (2) It wasn't 'always-on' listening, you had to hold a button to activate it.

    It could only recognise a couple of other commands beyond 'call' and a name to match against whatever was in the address book (which was probably limited to a couple of hundred entries and I'm pretty sure the length of the name was also limited), but then again it was at least a million times less powerful than a modern smartphone. It's 100% certain that a modern device can be built that can locally process and act on all manner of useful commands without sending any data anywhere. Yet nobody is building one, because they can't compete against the highly subsidised Siri, Alexa, Google.

    Good to know that people are rejecting these spies en masse

    1. Agamemnon

      Re: Voice control

      I had a voice assistant that ran locally write some time back and it worked Great! Sure it was limited to mostly phone functions but that's what I wanted. ['Call $girlfriend' was super handy.] Security Changes in an Android Rev [I forget which] killed it.

      For fun: I'm actually writing this on my phone with a Bluetooth Keyboard with a trackpad (that also works with my FondleSlab and Laptop, and a nice button for each).

      And see how I use punctuation? PITA with a voice assistant.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Voice control

      "It could only recognise a couple of other commands beyond 'call' and a name to match against whatever was in the address book "

      Yes, my old Nokia could do that. Then again, even further back in time, I built a circuit from a book that was basically a few filters that clipped at 3 or 4 frequencies and output a digital signal to my TRS-80. The software could then store a pattern based on the sound and duration it "heard" and, with fairly limited parameters, recognise "words" and perform actions. One word at a time and you had to pronounce the word pretty close to the trained word to get a match to the stored pattern. It helped to make sure all the trained "action" words were not too closely similar. That was an 8-bit Z80 CPU running at 1MHz and, at the time I only had 16K RAM to work with. What the phone did was harder, because it has to match a spoke name with a string of letters, so it needs some smarts to analyse how that string of letters should sound. With my old Nokia, I had a to pronounce a Welsh colleagues name using the "rules of English" to get it to call him despite his name sounding utterly different to the "English" spelling :-)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had only a few uses, both in-car ones.

    Call a number, refuse an incoming call, have an SMS read, reply to an SMS. All of the worked well on my Nokia with Windows Phone. Each time an SMS came in, the phone politely asked if I wanted it read, and it could get and send an answer.

    Since I switched to Android, this powerful OS can't perform easily such tasks. Android Auto is a joke, and now wants a compatible car. Google assistant works so badly I now looks for numbers with wheel controls and wait to read SMS.

    My TomTom does a better job with its limited set of voice commands - limited but useful enough. Probably because it is interested only in tracking my trips, and not everything else.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Voice assistants failed because

    I can't re-map the button to something even remotely useful (despite trying various software, etc). But hey, was it not a fantastic trap for milions of idiots, who have spent countless hours, years of their own time, of their own free will, to feed free information back to OS giants, to various government bodies and, naturally, to handset makers. And to their carefully selected business partners. And their business partners' partners' partners.

  18. Forget It
    Coffee/keyboard

    Has anyone tried ...

    having Siri to chat to Alexa to GoogleAssistant

    while Chat.GPT riffs off the results

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Has anyone tried ...

      In 1972, ELIZA (as "The Doctor", at BBN (tenex?) ) and PARRY (at SAIL) had a conversation at the first ICCC ... Well, they had a conversation that was followed over the ARPANET during the ICCC. It was immortalized in RFC 439.

      Not much has changed in half a century.

  19. 96percentchimp

    Google Home has got worse since 2020

    I have a brace of Google Homes that I mostly use as smart speakers, timers, lighting controllers and occasionally for answering questions when neither I nor Mrs Chimp wants to get their phone out. They're certainly useful when your hands are full or you need to set a timer with hands too wet or dirty for a phone, but for about two years they've been getting worse, not better. Voice commands are misunderstood more frequently, with a particular case that there's a 50/50 chance of what will happen to the lights when I ask Google to turn them "out" instead of "off". They might go off, they might stay on. This is not a system that's learning my speech patterns. My partner's Irish accent fares even worse.

    I thought it might just be us, until I discovered the Google Home subreddit. It's full of users complaining that the performance of their devices has declined. Reports from the Alexa camp suggest that it's more responsive, but too frequently tries to sell you things based on your queries.

    As for answering questions, it's fine if you want to know basic facts, but if you try to ask any sort of nested or conditional question, the best you can hope for is instructions to look at a link on your phone. Which is exactly what I don't want to do, or can't do, when I'm asking the question.

    If Google can't make money off these things, then its history suggests that it will withdraw investment, performance will decline, users will abandon the product and they'll be consigned to the great Google Skip. Perhaps that journey has already begun.

    1. DrinkAleAndEatCurry
      Stop

      "Smart Speakers" Really?

      > smart speakers

      Give them their real name: Smart Microphones.

      Alexa = Amazons microphone

    2. Christopher Rogers

      Re: Google Home has got worse since 2020

      Completely agree. Same experience. Useful for answering questions, setting heating, lights, turning off the TV when kids need to do homework/go to bed, saying merry Christmas and having the lights go on and Christmas music start playing, checking football scores, the weather, playing radio, music, ringing a dinner bell, making duo calls, finding my phone etc BUT ONLY WHEN THE DAMN THING UNDERSTANDS THE COMMAND. And as you say, that has been getting worse since around 2020....

      The future of voice I think is with the hardware vendors. Siri and Bixby could yet come out on top in this battle.

  20. Zenubi

    "Procrustean Bed of Late Capitalism"

    Nice!

  21. Andy 73 Silver badge

    Missing the point...

    They serve their makers?.. yes of course they do, just as car manufacturers don't actually make cars because they care about your commute to work in the morning. Companies aren't altruistic, and we've gone through a ridiculous phase of believing they are because marketing and snake oil salesmen tell us they really, really care about us, the planet and our values. They don't.

    But.... the point here is nor do they have to. It's assigning a level of understanding that doesn't really exist to suggest that people rejected voice assistants "because data". They rejected them because they're not terribly useful. Even the most cynical, manipulative and dishonest companies can sell cynical, manipulative products if they offer customers something they want.

    Voice assistants failed mainly because they have no real autonomy or agency in the world. You can't ask them to pick your kids up from school, turn the oven on and put some chips in, or any of a million and one actually useful assistant-like functions. It's like having a secretary on speed-dial - if that was a useful thing outside of certain business environments, we'd have done that already with call centres..

    They've also failed because voice is a terrible interface for typical computer activities where some sort of state is preserved. Even the timer function is sub-optimal - ever found yourself asking Alexa if you actually set a timer or not? For navigating useful tools or menus, not being able to visualise where you are in the interaction is death to an assistant. Equally, discovery is terrible - we're told there are tens of thousands of actions you can take with your assistant - but most people stick to a tiny (and obvious) handful they know.

    1. DoctorPaul

      Re: Missing the point...

      The quote that I always remember is

      "People think that Ford are in business to make cars. They're not, they're in business to make money."

  22. Reginald O.

    Hey Siri...

    I ask her, "Why are you so stupid?"

    She used to say: "I don't have an answer for that."

    Apparently, AI has kicked in and now she is getting snotty:

    "I won't respond to that".

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "ChatGPT has been released for free"

    Has it?

    My understanding is that the beta is free but that it will eventually be a paid service (though I imagine there might be a few tier with the caveats that you describe?)

    I haven't checked it out myself as it asks for a phone number and I'm not happy giving it one.

  24. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Hands free

    "Hi Google"

    "---------"

    "Message wife"

    "-----------------"

    "Stuck in traffic, so I'll be late"

    etc.

    It's the only use I can find for this stuff.

    And that's because it's the only way I can speak to my car's hands free system.

  25. bazza Silver badge

    Well, Duh?

    If Amazon have lost $10billion on Alexa, they've not been charging enough for it. Simples. Even I can work that out.

    Sure, it's possible that if sold for a profit the devices would be too expensive for the market to bear. But perhaps that's looking at it the wrong way in tech. Apple sells gazillions of phones for a vast price and high margin that, fundamentally, do nothing more than the cheapest Android phone on the market. It's not a market where rational purchasing decisions are made - it hasn't been that way since 2008. These days, "over-priced" and "does very little" does not necessarily equate to "won't sell".

    So, what's the "bling factor" for something like an Alexa? Encrust it with diamonds? Probably not. Have it deeply integrated into the home, requiring a small army of experts to come in and run cables, microphones, sensors, flat panel speakers, micro projectors, lasers, etc, all of it running off a "special" computer that's in our own home? That would get closer to the mark.

    Let's face it, when we think of "cool", it's Iron Man's Jarvis. The difference with Jarvis and, say, Alexa is that Iron Man owned all the hardware for Jarvis. Jarvis does not run off Amazon's cloud, and is therefore significantly more discrete. Oh, and there's a bit of a gulf between the intelligence of the fictional Jarvis and the crop of today's home assistants.

    These Things Can Be More Than Just a Gimmic

    The pity is that, really, Amazon Echo / Alexa (and things like it) have made a real, fundamental difference to a sector of society that is often forgotten about / excluded by the tech industry: the elderly.

    There's a lot of elderly widowed grannies who have an Alexa who know that, should they have a fall or some other accident they can just say "Alexa, call my daughter".

    You can buy an Amazon Echo Dot for £20, which for a home "guardian" is really, really cheap. If Amazon could make a profit on the hardware / service by charging £40, then that'd still be price-viable for this purpose and Amazon would be making a profit.

    The reason it's a pity is that a company like Amazon is likely to just toss the whole thing in the bin, rather than make a small profit out of a small user base and fulfil a useful social role.

  26. chivo243 Silver badge
    Terminator

    Voice Assistants

    Pretty creepy, pretty invasive. Not under my rock...

    1. Christopher Rogers

      Re: Voice Assistants

      not pretty either.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My wife loves Alexa

    Because nothing amuses her more than listening to me go off on a foul mouthed rant at Alex for failing to understand me.

    Last night I was threatening to stab Alexa up and calling her a useless bitch, missus was in tears of laughter as each word got more singular, clearer and louder.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: My wife loves Alexa

      This is probably going to get a chuckle out of her.

  28. localzuk Silver badge

    Business model is easily adaptable for Amazon

    Add a requirement to have subscription service for it, and bundle it into Amazon Prime as well. Even a subscription of £1 per speaker per month would cover it, or an unlimited plan for larger numbers. Supposedly over 200 million devices out there, and Amazon are losing $10bn a year for it? That's $5 a year per speaker.

    Sure, not everyone would pay a fee, and would stop using the devices, but many would carry on.

    It just shows a lack of imagination from Amazon really.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Business model is easily adaptable for Amazon

      You missed a zero in that: it's $50 per speaker per year. Moreover, if they introduced a subscription, that's more people who will dump the thing in a drawer and not use it again, as now it's a brick unless they pay again. I'm not sure where the money went, but maybe they should start looking at the logs they undoubtedly have to answer the question "What is the stuff we spent a ton of money writing scripts for that nobody asks for".

      1. localzuk Silver badge

        Re: Business model is easily adaptable for Amazon

        $50 a year per speaker would kill the product entirely, as they are still in competition with others for the same concept.

        A small fee would not.

  29. IlGeller

    Stealing patents and bribing a judge is not the solution to the problem. That's why nothing works.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Talk to a computer, you must be nuts? The damn thing doesn't do what I want even when I hit it.

  31. Helcat

    Voice navigation isn't much better

    Got the system in the new car: The ability to tell the system what I want to do, and where I want to go, and it sorts out the route for me.

    Easy, right?

    Nope. Doesn't work. Was using SatNav and it stopped working (lost the signal and refused to reaquire), so tried the inbuilt system: It could not understand the address I was giving it. Not at all. I found a safe place to park up and try: No good. So I gave up with it, focused on getting the SatNav working again (reboot/reboot/threaten with a fire axe) got it working and continued with that.

    So voice sounds great, but it really isn't mature enough yet outside of some very basic functions.

  32. IlGeller

    Google won’t launch ChatGPT rival because of ‘reputational risk’ they said. Brin, Page and Zuker afraid to steal again: they can lose all they have.

  33. navarac Silver badge

    Having these things in your house, is like inviting the Stasi or Gestapo to sit in the corner of your living room with a tape recorder. No way do I want this advanced technology anywhere near my living environment.

  34. Omnipresent Bronze badge

    I have it ALL turned off.

    There are few things that can ruin my day like ordering my hamburgers from an AI BOT.

    No, I do not want 50$ in fast food mega burgers. I want my usual order, but that's not a numbered meal.

    I am sooooo sick of robots already. I do not know how to operate in this virtual world, and I don't care to. It's not real, and computers were a pain in the ass enough to deal with.

    I have it ALL turned off. I go out of my way to do it.

  35. Slx

    They also don’t really do much that’s very useful.

    “Hey Siri, play Alt Ctrl playlist”

    “Ok now playing Middle of the Road, by Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum”

    “Hey Siri Play Alt Ctrl playlist”

    “Please unlock your iPhone first!!”

    “hey siri! Play alt ctrl playlist”

    “I can’t do that while you’re driving!”

    Wtf Siri!!! (throws iPhone out window!)

  36. iron Silver badge

    > Ask anyone how they use these assistants for (everyone with a smartphone has access to at least one of them) and the answer almost invariably boils down to one of two tasks: playing music, or setting a timer.

    Ask me how I use these voice assitants and the answer is actually not at all, ever and never will I use them.

    I left a decent job because they installed one in the office and until I left I stopped speaking except when absolutely required.

  37. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Nope nope and...........

    Nope!

    I dont have one at home , cant see the point of it.

    However I could try one at work.....and use it for doing my job.......

    Alexa: Load model <customer name><part number>

    Alexa : Rotate model Z axis 90 degrees positive.

    Alexa : extract model edges at grid 45, 78

    Alexa: Move extracted edges to Z datum plane.

    Alexa : Link missing edges.

    Alexa : define high speed path using Z plane as template.

    All well and reasonable... except I'd have to be damn precise in my wording and know full well I'd have to do it 3 or 4 times using a voice assistant....

    Whereas using the mouse/keyboard would take me about 50% less time with far less errors.

    Sorry amazon/google/apple/et al , but about the only use for your toys is playing music,and setting alarms.and a small side order of letting the powers that be watch us all the time(if they can be bothered)

  38. Cav Bronze badge

    Yes, try to order anything with Alexa and she comments "Ok, I've ordered 10 Tennis balls, three unicycles and an armadillo".

    The problem is the thing is stupid, deaf and has a worse memory than Drew Barrymore's character in 50 First Dates.

    I use it, when it works, to play the same playlist of music every night as I go to sleep. Most night's the damn thing just doesn't remember that I made the same request, that it was perfectly able to meet, the night before and it can't find my playlist.

    We aren't instinctively avoiding the things profiling us and invading our privacy. They're just bloody useless.

  39. jake Silver badge

    Siri(Alexa) ...

    ... How can I show the world I'm a brain-dead consumer without saying I'm a brain-dead consumer?

  40. NeilPost

    … and they are shit.

    “ The answer is simple: voice assistants were never designed to serve user needs. The users of voice assistants aren't its customers – they're the product.”

    You’ve missed the other primary reason …. *They are shit*.

    .. from a technical usability and accuracy POV.

  41. Spatha

    If they are only used to play music and set timers then users are not really trying. My Google Assistant is frequently used to answer questions that come up in conversation (with people), translate or define a word heard on some show, or look up some fact. All while sitting on an easy chair while eating or otherwise occupied, and not wishing to fumble with a mobile device.

    My only complaint is that Google Assistant seems to be hard of hearing, but that should be fixable.

  42. dave 81
    Meh

    Defenestration

    Every time I set a timer or delete the notifications and Alexa utters the words "by the way" "did you know" its risks me chucking it out the window. Yet I put up with these intrusions just because of how damned useful being able to set quick timers or do a quick sum is by voice. But I fear the day will come when after shouting "Alexa! shut up shut up shut up!" and it keeps talking that it will be unplugged and never plugged back in.

  43. Grunchy Silver badge

    Google Glass

    I still have the original voice assistant, that being Google Glass that I got for $50 second-hand so I could see what the fuss was about (much fuss about nothing, as it so happens.)

    I laugh at everybody who Burned! their money on a Google Nest thermostat. A thermostat is an on-off switch that maintains a particular temperature and worth about $10. I would have splurged $20 for the programmable one, except the previous homeowner already did that. Yeah $300+ for Google surveillance thermostat just ain’t gonna fly around here.

  44. Jim Whitaker

    Sorcerer's assistants

    "save us from this data harvesting nightmare". If the problem bothers you, then don't buy one. (Full disclosure - I don't have one.)

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Uses

    playing music, or setting a timer.

    Yep, that's my usage too, but with one other. Hey Google, what's the definition of xxxxxxx.

    For example "Hey Google, what's the latest definition of a woman?"

  46. SundogUK Silver badge

    Never used one. Never going to use one.

  47. bernmeister

    Concept flawed.

    The whole idea of the voice assistant is flawed. A simple text search of the internet is all that is needed. Voice recognition and AI turn a simple request into a case of Chinese whispers. "Send me two and sixpence I am going to a dance" could turn into the start of a war.

    1. dajames

      Re: Concept flawed.

      Voice recognition and AI turn a simple request into a case of Chinese whispers. "Send me two and sixpence I am going to a dance" could turn into the start of a war.

      You'll probably cause it to melt down! Everyone knows you need three and fourpence to go to a dance.

  48. joed

    Just ask Alexa how much loss she made to Amazon and you'll find out learn irrelevant details about rain forest. Hard coded answers, no wonder that people got borred with gimmicks

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