TV REMOTES are an iconic staple of Canadian homes. Developed in the 1950s with model names like the “Lazy Bones,” they were crafted to keep us planted in the overstuffed couches that eventually devoured them. Couples have sparred over remotes. Cable channels crafted slogans and game shows around them. Comics mocked their bewildering mix of buttons.
But in the last few years, voice controlled digital assistants from Apple, Amazon, and Google have moved in. With this invasion of AI assistants comes incredible command over technology: Don’t set a timer or check the weather; ask. Don’t flip through a binder of CDs for the right song; shout out the song. With the latest technology innovations, all you’ll need to do is to call out to your digital assistant and they can immediately power on your TV, streaming device and soundbar, search for the show or song, and start where it you left off.
No doubt, the control and convenience that comes from the next generation of voice command is really going to enhance the home theatre experience. The most enticing of these possible clicker replacements is the new Amazon’s Fire TV Cube. This shiny 3-inch block can manage almost any media device you own via voice commands—without a mess of wires; just one HDMI cable can do the trick. Using the Amazon’s Alexa’s service, you can speak to it to control your entire home theatre experience.
From turning everything on, to volume to switching between all the devices you have. You can even check the weather, stream prime video or music or do your shopping. It looks as if it will be available on Amazon in the US the end of this month, no release date yet for Canada.
At the same time, Polk Command Bar and The Sonos Beam (two audio speaker companies) are releasing soundbars that perform many of the same tasks as Amazon’s Cube, but with premium audio in the mix.
Also, Apple and Google have voice command features built into their TV devices allowing you to request shows, songs, and movies to play. Even Microsoft’s Xbox ONE has an optional DVR feature that allows you to voice control your cable TV allowing you to power everything on and off, change channels, pause and record live TV.
Meanwhile, scientists at Lancaster University in the U.K. developed a prototype called MatchPoint that focuses on movements and gestures, not voice, as a means of control. Using a webcam, the system recognizes hand or head motions to move an on-screen cursor. It’s a ways off, but as technology becomes more embedded into our everyday lives so does the abundance of sensing technologies that would allow us to break free of the physical remote.
You are right. Many people still distrust devices that listen at all time. With all of the privacy concerns today, it is hard to know and trust what companies are doing with our conversations. Just recently, Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, began laughing out loud for no apparent reason. That problem, now fixed, was a result of the digital assistant listening all the time and mistakenly hearing a phrase that invoked a laugh.
That said, it’s unlikely Amazon, Google, and Apple’s artificial intelligence technology has gained sentience and is about to launch a Terminator-like war on humanity, but outside mischief is also a real possibility. Smart technologies growing popularity is making them a target.
Even if that’s not the case in this situation, it’s reasonable to expect that a hack is more likely a case of when, not if.
It’s simply the reality of the modern digital world. When the hack does come, the repercussions could be more significant than just menacing laughter.
The bottom line here is that the problems related to all of these voice activated smart devices are also likely to intensify as new technology now allows for even users’ voices to be replicated.