What’s Next for Wake Words?

Voice assistants are nearly synonymous with the phrases “Alexa”, “Ok Google” and “Hey Siri.” Embedded into our daily vernacular, these wake words represent just how easy it is to converse with voice technology on our smart speakers and mobile devices. Although features such as custom wake words and personalized voice profiles have helped to give voice users more control over their experience, there have been concerns about ‘wake words’ being the best way to communicate with our voice-enabled devices. For example, similar-sounding phrases have been known to trigger smart assistants to listen (although Google has taken steps to minimize this), and brands have challenged if saying other companies’ names overshadows their control over voice applications. As a nascent field, voice tech is advancing every day with new developments creating possibilities for even more frictionless audio engagement. This week, we see Google exploring that terrain by testing a new way to ‘wake’ devices that could push voice-enabled engagement to the next level.

Don’t Just Say It, Do It

Google is testing a feature where your proximity to a device activates the Assistant, envisioning a future with less reliance on the wake word. In a video by Jan Boromeusz, a frequent tester of new features, the Assistant on a Nest Hub Max device reappears as he approaches the screen without saying “Hey Google.” Although there isn’t confirmation about how the capability works, there is speculation that the Nest devices use their cameras or ultrasound sensors (which can gauge distance and location by emitting high-frequency sounds) to understand when someone is near a device. With new ways to engage voice devices like proximity monitoring, users may have access to more seamless voice interactions, but privacy concerns will likely still surface around what new kinds of data the Assistant is monitoring. More on Engadget

This Is Duplex Speaking

Google Duplex, the AI introduced in 2018 to call businesses to make reservations or get information, can now book haircuts. Initially, Duplex could only make restaurant reservations and buy movie tickets online. With the new feature, users first find a qualifying business through Google Maps or search and then with the “Request an Appointment” button, input their desired haircut, preferred date and time, and contact information. Once they confirm their preferences, Duplex calls the business, disclosing that an AI is making the appointment, and details are sent back to the user once an appointment is confirmed. As Google Duplex continues to add more capabilities to its repertoire and collect data on real-world conversations, it may not be long until AIs and intelligent assistants take over our calendar management and daily tasks. More on Voicebot.ai

The Assistant-Guided Tour

Foursquare, the location technology platform, unveiled its first move into the audio AR space with Marsbot for Airpods. As you walk through certain places, the virtual assistant will proactively whisper location-specific facts and tips from your earbuds, highlighting notable places and attractions. In addition, users can record their own audio snippets to leave advice or comments for others who venture down the same path. As smart hearables tap into location data, mobile apps, and other digital touchpoints, the evolved audio experience poses endless possibilities for brands to hyper-target their audiences and create geo-specific content in novel ways. More on VentureBeat

Stats Don’t Lie

43% How much daily listening on smart speakers has increased since the beginning of 2020. (data via AdWeek)

23M people are using voice assistants to make purchases, a 43% increase from 2018 and a 10% increase from 2019. (data via PYMNTS.com)

Chart of the Week