Top news stories for Episode 10 (September 7, 2017):

1) Taking sides in voice commerce: Home Depot selects Google Home for voice ordering; Kohl's aligns with Amazon

2) The rise of voice-first technology will experience an equal and opposite rise of voice-first privacy attacks, including this new one involving inaudible sound.

3) The hits keep coming: Amazon rolls out "List Events" and "Two-Way Sync"

4) #VoiceTheater? The BBC is producing a voice-based radio play which puts the user front-and-center in a new audio story "in the vein of Kafka and Adams"

5) eHarmony partners with Amazon...and lives happily ever after?

6) Here's the millionth article saying Apple can come from behind and "win" with the HomePod, despite new entrants from Sony and Panasonic just this week alone. (For good measure, here's the million-and-first)

7) Tech legend Tim O'Reilly joined The VoiceFirst Roundtable in an interview that will release Wednesday, September 27, emphasizing the need for voice ecosystems to remain "lands of opportunity" rather than closed monopolies of a select few companies.

By the way, he has a new book coming out Oct 10 which directly applies to the #VoiceFirst landscape - pre-order it through Amazon here.

Panel for Episode 10 (September 7, 2017):

Brian Roemmele

Brian just published issue number 6 of Multiplex Magazine called The Enchanted Loom. He explores a new AI concept for Voice First systems called Artificial Understanding. Get the Read Multiplex App at the iOS store and subscribe for this and the entire catalog of magazines.

Bob Stolzberg

Bob is founder and Chief Innovation Officer of VoiceXP, one of the premiere voice skill development companies in the United States, and a preferred partner of both Amazon and Google. VoiceXP is also exclusive sponsor of This Week In Voice and The VoiceFirst Roundtable, both of which appear on the VoiceFirst.FM network, and is a trusted partner and advocate for voice technology.

Transcript

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:10] Hi, and welcome back to This Week In Voice for Thursday, September 7th, 2017.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:18] My name is Bradley Metrock - I'm CEO of a company called Score Publishing, based here in Nashville, Tennessee. I'm joined by two phenomenal guest panelists today: Bob Stolzberg, CEO of VoiceXP. Say hello!

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:00:33] Woo hoo! What up everybody! It's a pleasure to be here. This is Bob Stolzberg - I am the Chief Innovation Officer and founder of VoiceXP. We've got someone else coming in for the CEO role. But thank you!

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:44] There you go. So I'll edit that. Or, I won't...

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:00:49] Yeah - we're flying freestyle!

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:51] Bob, thank you for setting the time aside, and joining us - you guys are doing some incredible stuff. And Brian, I will get to you in just a second, but I'm going to give my VoiceXP spiel.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:00] VoiceXP is the exclusive sponsor of This Week In Voice and The VoiceFirst Roundtable - a huge partner of us here at VoiceFirst.FM. And they are blazing the trail in voice technology...they are taking the lead, and developing Alexa skills for some of the best brands in the world. With VoiceXP, all you have to do is say it, to revolutionize your marketing strategy. Seriously, if you have not yet gone to VoiceXP.com - stop the podcast, go there right now - you'll be much better off for doing so. Bob, thank you for joining us.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:01:34] Oh my gosh. It is such a pleasure to share history in the making and what we're doing with large brands and enterprise businesses with the rest of the world. I feel every day is seriously the most exciting time to be alive in technology. I know there's a lot of things happening in the world, but from a tech front, it doesn't get any better than this.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:54] Absolutely. Yeah. Couldn't agree more with what you said.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:57] And we're also joined by Brian Roemmele - Brian, say hello!

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:02:00] How are you doing, Bradley?

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:02:04] Doing good, Brian. So share with us what's going on in your world right now, with ReadMultiplex.com (and everybody who's listening needs to go there)...but fill us in with what you're doing.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:02:14] Well, just working on some new stories. I think I'll have a little bit of write-up about deeper aspects of #VoiceCommerce and some of the things are going to take place in the show today concerning Kohl's and Home Depot...and maybe another surprise that I might be able to announce by the time the show is complete and out, but we'll see. Exciting news coming!

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:02:37] And I got to second that, Bradley: VoiceXP is cutting-edge technology. Great group of individuals up there, really changing things up. I encourage, and have encouraged, many brands and companies to go in that direction, so go there.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:02:54] Wow! I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy! Thank you guys very much.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:02:58] I had the privilege, Bob, of joining you last week at a couple of panels that y'all ran in St. Louis. And thank you very much for having me - it was a privilege. I got to meet that Nandini Stocker of Google, who was up there, and obviously you guys are doing phenomenal things in St. Louis, for St. Louis. It was a pleasure to see.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:03:18] Oh thank you. Based on the feedback from the guests that attended both our executive luncheon and our user group meet-up - Bradley, you and VoiceFirst.FM provided a lot of knowledge, and shared so many great things - it was a lot of inspiration. So thank you for being a guest. And I also want to thank Nandini Stocker, the Lead Conversation Design Advocate at Google. Phenomenal rockstar. Everybody was so impressed with the knowledge shared around voice, and the excitement around it. So thank you both for being part of it.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:03:55] Before we get into the news, I want to mention one additional thing. VoiceFirst.FM is hitting the road in September! We're going to our first conference - the Intelligent Assistants Conference, September 18th and 19th in San Francisco. The folks at Opus Research have been very gracious to work with us on partnering with them to interview a lot of their speakers, and to be a media partner for their event. And we're thrilled to do it. It's the start of a lot of relationships that we want to have with different events and things going on. We want to be out there. We want to be out there in the community, and growing VoiceFirst.FM. So I just want to make sure everyone listening knows that if you're in the Bay Area, you need to go to the Intelligent Assistants Conference - Google it, look it up, buy a ticket. And when you do, come say hello to us. It will be very obvious where we're set up - we're going to be broadcasting throughout the conference, and come say hello.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:04:54] Yeah, and also I want to add, Bradley: shout-out to Opus Research. The team has been doing a phenomenal job keeping their finger on the pulse of the voice industry. They hit my radar close to January timeframe and I'm really impressed. I see information coming out of them that even the leaders like Gartner aren't putting out yet, so a great firm to get details from.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:05:19] Bradley, I got to say it's just really great to see VoiceFirst.FM reaching out. And Dan, over at Opus, has been one of the grandfathers of this whole movement. He started when everybody thought IVR was the epitome of the #VoiceFirst revolution, and I give him a lot of credit for help in shaping in a lot of that direction and the imaginations of some of the early developers, and certainly all the way out today. I will be joining you there - myself and Dan will be doing a sort of fireside chat about the future - and I look forward to seeing you there.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:05:56] Yeah. All very exciting! So with that, let's get to the news. And let's talk about how company after company after company is choosing sides in the overall voice battle, but specifically voice commerce. And we've got two big stories this week that sort of epitomize this: Home Depot selected Google Home to partner with for voice-ordering their different products, while Amazon partnered with Kohl's to open up little mini-stores inside of Kohl's...a very interesting story there.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:06:34] So Bob, I want to start with you. What do you take away from these two stories, and how do you view this ongoing war between Google and Amazon to achieve superiority in voice?

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:06:52] Well, I draw a lot of parallels to my experiences in the enterprise cloud space from the past 20 years. And what we've seen is businesses and brands put their foot in the water with a trusted partner or a trusted service provider and then after they get that adoption of the technology, they go multi-cloud. They try to be agnostic or mitigate risk and be diverse. I think we're going to see the same thing play out. The reality is brands can feel that Amazon is a threat to their business; just the nature of the beast. So I can understand why some of them become allies with Google as opposed to Amazon. But I think in the long run these brands are going to have to adopt a multi-provider voice strategy - being able to play in both spaces. But VoiceXP is launching today the first-ever Alexa Black Friday ad campaign and it works on Google Assistant platform as well. But this is huge, because we're talking to so many major brands about rolling out their Black Friday and Cyber Monday and holiday special ads three-way branded skill. So you can get something like "Alexa, ask Best Buy the Black Friday ad," and you can get details and have a conversation around that. This is a great way for them to put a foot in the water during this holiday season - get data metrics feedback and figure out how to have their 2018 strategy really take off from there.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:08:27] I've been following this for a very long time, since the 1980s, and started to conceive of the idea of voice commerce back in that early epoch - and I've always seen an amalgamation of what became online commerce and, what I was thinking in that era, more like mail order and phone order and physical retail.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:08:51] And the thing that most people who are sometimes really quite versed in tech, and even merchants, are missing about voice commerce is that it's crossing all of these barriers that existed before, in ways that few can understand what the repercussions are. Let's look at the Home Depot scenario first, because it's quite different.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:09:12] There's a significant number of transactions that take place at office companies like Staples and Office Depot. The low-hanging fruit on the tree in voice commerce is reordering. And this is where somebody is not unsure of doing the transaction. They know the product already. They don't physically need to have to see it. It's a fallacy that so many people say "Well, I need to see what the paper towels looks like." Really? After a hundred times buying it, when do you need to stop looking at it? It takes just about five or six purchases to the point where you get to reordering without having to see it. Home Depot has a lot of scenarios where reordering - or ordering of things that are known - are going to take place. The obvious are light bulbs and things of that nature. I could go down the whole tree, but I leave that for somebody's own imagination. I've identified at Home Depot about 117 items that are ripe for reordering. Now, the interesting part about it is that these are in the top 300 items being sold at Amazon. So Google is seen as a strategic way to align with existing merchants so that they can somehow catch up to Amazon's voice commerce retail and online strategy. It's a good first step, but I think as we talked about pre-show, Google will need orders of magnitude more focus, more leadership, and more vision on how to do this. One-off relationships, with Wal-Mart and Home Depot, unfortunately on the long arc of this, is really not going to cut it.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:11:01] And on the other side is the Kohl's scenario. Amazon is opening up a 1000 square foot store in the middle of Kohl's retail. Right now it's limited to 10 markets, 10 stores apparently; I believe that that's going to expand to about 50, from my insiders, quite rapidly. It turns out that some of the employees manning the 1000 square foot store will be Amazon employees ... and that should let a lot of people ponder. It turns out that an inordinately large amount of the women's clothing market, specifically the professional woman's apparel market, is owned by Kohl's, and there's a lot of reasons for that. A lot of it has to do with situational: where they're located. They have great locations. Number two is quality of product. Number three is quite interesting: in-house name brands that are correlated with sometimes famous people, sometimes famous brands like Candies and things like that. Women are more inclined to order online maybe five or six pairs of shoes to try on and send four back, and they like one, or send five back, and they like nothing, cause it's free shipping. But clothing is a much different sort of experience - it's much more tactile. And it's much harder to do that in a virtual setting. Not to say it's not happening, of course. Certainly activewear is doing exceedingly well on Amazon. Amazon's own in-house brand of activewear is having a damaging effect on a lot of yoga pants and other types of purchases. But in general, especially with professional women's wear, they need to try it on. They need to feel it, touch it, see what it looks like. Kohl's is a great avenue for that.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:12:42] In my mind there's a really good chance that you're going to see either a partnership or an acquisition of Kohl's by Amazon. I think the stage needs to be set correctly for that to take place. But I don't think you allow a retailer like Amazon into your store, and you're Kohl's, and you're not a dumb bunny. Kohl's has survived an incredibly, incredibly aggressive market that took Nordstrom's at Macy's and other long brands by surprise.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:13:13] What they're doing is supporting an ecosystem. You go to Kohl's, you pick up your Amazon stuff like you would at Amazon Locker; I'm sure they'll do delivery there. You buy what you need, you get yourself some Starbucks, you get your kids their Spiderman pajamas - it's all in one spot now. But what I think is interesting, Brian, is that you have your head focused on the commerce side. And I think what's really going to be the game changer is when Google Commerce is big - Google transactions, so people can buy things through them. Same with Amazon: nobody else is really transacting through that native platform. You've got to bolt onto it. And that's going to really open up, I think, next year. Right now these brands need to get present on these platforms to be relevant.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:13:59] I'll give you an example. We just signed our most recent platinum rapper. I can't tell you who, but when a single comes out everybody will know. This guy's been in the game for 15 years. He's changing the game. We're disrupting the music industry because he is. We're writing the software for him. His fans can get a subscription service. You can buy the single, buy the album, straight from the source. You just go to the Alexa skill or the Google Action to go in and engage with that artist brand. In addition to the children's skills on Amazon - once this stuff hits mainstream media in music videos, with celebrity endorsements and movies - this is what's going to cause Full Tilt. It's most exciting time to be in tech. It's the fourth wave. Like you guys heard Brian and Bradley say there was web, and then there was mobile, and then there was social - well, this voice surprise opens up so many opportunities.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:15:03] I've been on the Vans Warped Tour for 15 years. Its demographic is primarily early teens and preteens, to mid to late teens, and it's been an entirely interesting ecosystem. I identified Snapchat as a as a phenomenon within three and a half months of the app being put out, and I observed it in real time. Warped Tour is typically 35 dates in 40 days, so it's not your classic rock 'n' roll tour; it's hard core, very hard on the artist type of scenario. We see between 30,000-50,000 fans each stop. So you get a really good feel about what's going on in that demographic. What I noticed in the last three years is more and more people doing either pizza phone - talking into their phone - or just picking up their phone and text messaging. Know what they were doing? They were using their voice to interact, and they were using their voice to text their friends and their family. So they're using their thumbs less, and that's going to matriculate up.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:16:13] But getting down to music: what I've always understood, especially about a punk tour, is that the idea of DIY, Do It Yourself and EIY, Earn It Yourself - is - I wouldn't say anti-label - but very agnostic to labels. And the Vans Warped Tour gave voice to the ability of independent bands. And about a year ago I started talking to bands about how they would use things like Alexa. This is going to be a must-have. I don't care who you are as an artist. It's very much like not having your music on iTunes or not having a Web site. If you don't have a voice-first presence across all platforms - that's equivalent to a major corporation saying, "OK, we need a website presence; let's put our business card or brochure up on the web." You must think about the repercussions of the brand image, the brand reputation, and the brand persona that you're creating in these voice-first environments. If you just simply put your Q&A up on the voice platform, you're missing the whole point of this new medium.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:17:23] I'm just getting back to your point, Bob, about music and artists taking advantage of voice technology and voice-first platforms. I spent part of my weekend enabling the SiriusXM skill on the phone. It was not seamless. I had to dig up one or two of my wife's passwords because it's one account to get in and then you have to set up another account on top of it. But I digress. Once it was set up, it was a beautiful, beautiful thing. And I'm leaning to my main point. Bob, all the incredible things you're doing with VoiceXP, and Brian, all of your thought leadership - people are just now getting into thinking about how they're going to take advantage of voice. But even one step beyond that is thinking about how to take advantage of something like the Echo Show. Bob, you VoiceXP guys will be at the Alexa conference [shameless plug] in January, talking about the Echo Show - the Show is one step more standard deviation, more innovation, than even what we're talking about. Because once you've got your voice interactions in place, then you afford yourself the opportunity of thinking about how you're going to take advantage of a piece of equipment. I'll close this thought by saying I had the privilege of interviewing tech luminary and legend Tim O'Reilly yesterday for a new episode of the VoiceFirst Roundtable which will be released later this month, at his request, in conjunction with publicity for a new book he's got coming out October 10th called "WTF: What's The Future, and Why It's Up to Us." Go to Amazon and preorder that.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:19:24] He has not used the Echo Show. (This will be on the podcast, with discussion about this.) He had an Echo Look sent to him from Amazon and was not pleased with the product.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:19:44] I can tell you why Tim didn't like it. He was not the cohort - direct audience for that product. It was really a bad move. I can tell you it's taking off amongst a certain cohort. We've brought it up in the shows before.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:19:55] It's not for him. He had used that as a pretense to not investigate the Echo Show, and I told him - you'll hear it on the podcast - I said "Tim, you need to go buy the Echo Show. It's a magical device." Bob, you can speak more to it, but I know we're all in agreement - it's just a phenomenal device.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:20:20] Game changer. And before I talk about it I want to quickly do a kind of rebuttal to something Brian said. This voice thing caught everybody by surprise. If you weren't talking about it 19 months ago, you're like 99.99% percent of all brands out there. I've talked to so many Fortune 2000 Lee CVD leadership on a weekly basis, and everybody is just trying to figure it out. And I say - you know, what we do is to give you guys a crawl-walk-run approach. It's just like having a basic website site you put your company info: about us, our locations, vision, mission, leadership. That's great. That's a good place to start. Then you go to that "walk" phase and you have some dynamic content that gets integrated with APIs, and databases, and then you get your marketing engine wrapped up around it. But I just want to point out there's no shame in starting this year with just having a presence.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:21:17] I'm not saying there's shame. What I'm saying is get off your ass and start moving on it. The problem right now is that there are many people that are stroking beards and wondering "what should I do, what should I do?"

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:21:29] Yeah, your competition is calling VoiceXP and we're helping so many do that. Yes, the sense of urgency is this - this is what I tell people - Amazon sold 3.3 million Echo Dots on Prime Day. Just the Dots!

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:21:47] Actually I think the number is a little higher.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:21:50] Totally. But if you don't know as a marketer that the number one holiday present this year is going to be part of the Amazon Echo family and a Google Assistant product - you need to re-evaluate your position in marketing.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:22:04] Wait till everybody sees the Echo 2. What's when they kick it up to a much higher level - the price, the performance, everything.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:22:16] The hard sell is this: when 10 million people around the globe plug in this device and ask about your brand - on December 26 - are you going to have a voice? That's the sense of urgency.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:22:31] That's why I'm saying you should have been doing this a while ago. If you are a major brand and you don't have this ready for ... back to school. The number one selling item for back to school in Target all across this country was the Echo Dot.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:22:52] Yeah, I just bought three today.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:22:53] Yeah. This this was beyond scientific calculators which are usually a number one electronics item. This surpassed everything. In fact, it's the number one selling item, period, for back to school - not just in electronics. And I did that empirically: you're not going to see it anywhere else. I went out to Target. I went to 17 Targets, talked to the managers, and we did counts. We did pre-counts and post-counts. (Again, this is not officially ordained by Target. I do this research kind of guerrilla style.) Then we extrapolated by doing some random calling around the country. And I can tell you that I've never seen Target managers so befuddled. They sold out and kept selling out and kept selling out of Echo Dots. So this is not only a generational shift. These are young minds that are being formed around not using their thumbs any more, not downloading apps as much - completely changing the way they see things. So it's a it's a big shift. And, yeah - if you're a brand, you need to do this right now.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:23:56] To get back what Bradley said: the Echo Show is without a doubt the game changer. This is like everybody getting a PC in the '80s or '90s, whenever you came up - so many people are going to come on with this thing that's going to allow them to get voice and visual content hands-free, on-demand, through a personalized experience. Our whole firm pivoted our development on June 28 when this device came out because we know that every brand is going to want to have their content reflected on this visual device. It's programming HTML in 1997, all over again. You've got to be the best at it, know the different templates that Amazon has available, and how to fit your content - whatever it is - to make it look good, sound good, feel good. Because it's all about a voice experience.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:24:52] Just to button this up, because we've got to move on to our next story - there aren't enough superlatives to describe the Echo Show. Amazon has done everybody a favor by putting this technology out there and showing people a glimpse into the future, because that's exactly what it is. And - Bob, you heard me say this in St. Louis: I'm not a former Amazon employee, I'm not a current Amazon employee, I'm not a future Amazon employee.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:25:26] I've got to say this. There are maybe a hundred really prime voice- first experts on the planet today. That number is not going to dramatically change. These people have deep, deep knowledge about the space holographically and holistically, and I can tell you that is not enough. There need to be thousands and it's going to take maybe three or four years to start developing some of those talents and skills across all realms of the technology cycle.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:25:58] Yeah, and that's the role I see VoiceFirst.FM playing. Every company needs leadership in voice-first technology; they need to get it from somewhere. And in the very likely event that it's not on their own payroll currently, they need to look up people like VoiceXP, like Ahmed Bouzid with Witlingo - you go to that list or look up whoever and go find it. Because not only do you need the technological expertise to guide you - and we talked a little bit about this before the show - there are going to be books written (and Brian, maybe you and I need to collaborate on one) and I want VoiceFirst.FM to do a documentary as well on what's going on in voice technology - because what Amazon is doing right now is such a historic legendary pace that it almost takes a weekly news show to keep up with. And even then it's actually difficult. It's why Gary Vaynerchuk - who we're going to have on the VoiceFirst Roundtable in December - directed several people in his company to listen to This Week in Voice as part of their job, because it's a breakneck pace that Amazon is taking us on and it just provides another thing to be reckoned with for companies trying to navigate these waters. So you absolutely have to go find yourself an expert and hold on to them. It's going to be fun to watch it play out, and it dovetails well with our second story which I want to get into.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:27:39] Really, there are two major stories this week - we just talked at length about the first one. But the second one is not just another privacy story. We're going to have privacy stories every week. I could talk about it all day, every day if I wanted to. But this one is a little bit different. This one just sort of gives you chills, like the Echo Show does, because it's a sign of what our kids, grandkids, great-grandkids will be using and interacting with their whole lives. This just gives you chills for other reasons. The article talks about inaudible audio triggering voice-first devices - and Brian, I'm going to start with you on this. Please, take me one way or the other. Either help me feel better about this and take the nightmares away - or help me build the bunker.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:28:39] OK, I'm going to turn a light on, Bradley, OK? So there's no dark monsters in the closet, or under the bed. So let me turn on the spotlight. First: ultra-sonics. I've been working for about 27 months communicating to Alexa, Siri, and Cortana - not so much Cortana, but mostly Alexa and Siri in ultrasonic range. What that means is I can take a sound, like a voice command, send it up into the ultrasonic frequency - slightly above what a dog would hear.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:29:07] Like a dog whistle?

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:29:07] It's beyond a dog whistle. It's like a dog whistle. And it can respond to it, OK? As if you were saying it in your true voice. There are a lot of reasons why these systems hear in the ultrasonic range - let me tell you one of them. There's something called echolocation and noise cancellation. And with the beam-forming microphones that you see in the Alexa - there are seven radio microphones, and eight in the Echo Show - these microphones need to be able to identify where you are. One of the ways it does that is by - and this is a little bit of insider knowledge I'm giving out here, it's not patented or anything - one of the ways it does that is ultrasonics reverberate off of - let's call them porous materials, like cloth - in a much different way than normal audible sounds. Yet there's still information that's held inside that frequency, even though you're not obviously talking in the ultrasonics. That's about as much as I want to say about it; there's this information we get. But let me tell you why it's not such a big deal.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:30:16] First off, any command that you give that even slightly might not be something nice, like purchasing something...you're going to get a response back from your voice-first device in the audible range. It's not going to respond in the ultra-sonic range. So if somebody sends an ultrasonic command in somebody's voice to say "erase the entire hard drive" - you're going to hear the computer come back saying "Did you really want me to erase the entire hard drive?" So it's easy to kind of hand-wave and run down the road with this.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:30:52] Now: are there ways to protect? Yes. In my experimentation with the 27-odd months I've been doing this, I've been using it so as not to disturb people. Cause all of my research is primarily using Raspberry Pis to initiate these conversations, and sometimes I would send a command to Alexa that I just didn't want anybody to hear at the moment. And a lot of times it is really to sort of make Alexa a dialogue system without anybody really noticing how I'm doing that. It should have been talked about. I kept it quiet out of respect. I think it's all going to be worked out. I think probably the knee-jerk reaction is that we're going to get ultrasonic filters being used on these devices so that people feel safe, and then we're going to have a lot less accuracy as far as what somebody is saying.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:31:43] They've got to get their hands and their heads around this quick, because it's more of a PR problem. This never should have come out in an article like that.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:31:55] Bradley, I struggled with it. I talked to my insiders at the various companies. It's not like they didn't know about it. I was the first person to bring it up - I mean, 27 months ago, who the hell was thinking about this, right? I brought it up out of an honor to them - I said listen, I can invoke through ultra-sonics, I just want to let you know, folks...and some - I am not going to mention who - some said big deal? Who cares?

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:32:16] This has to be disclosed. This has to be talked about a bunch by these companies, from this point forward. The equivalent is like if I went to Home Depot and I bought a front door - which I actually just did, recently - and then I find out in an article two months later.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:32:34] There's a peephole, going the other way!

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:32:36] As opposed to the keys that Home Depot gave me, there's also this other way to get into my house that they never told me about. And now I got to do something else, and think about it. It's just unacceptable and this type of thing...it's been rare for this broadcast to contemplate issues that could undo so much of the momentum that has been acquired, but this is one of them. Bob, I want to get to you. What are your thoughts on this, and how did this strike you?

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:33:04] You know...it's an important topic, but it's not something I'm really passionate about. I'm more focused on helping brands dot the technology. And when we address security, it's common sense. Number one: put the mute button on. It is hard-wired into the device, and it can not be circumvented. So when not in use, put your mute button on! That's the only way I do this.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:33:27] We've placed Alexa...I'm sorry, Amazon devices...in boardrooms of Fortune 2000 companies, and the mute button just isn't good enough for that. So like Brian mentioned, you have to have other security solutions or mechanisms built in place. For American Express, you have a pin code that you have to enter in order to interact with your credit card statement, balance, etc. For some of our enterprise customers, they want more secure authentication with a multi-factor code that you have to speak into the device, that gets text messaged or emailed to you, to a person's device so that it knows, you know, hey, this person is asking for this. They actually do have access to get in it. What you're describing with the sonics...it's like a garage door opener, right? You might be able to hack my garage door, and get into my garage, but I have other locks in place so you can't get into my house, where I keep my valuables, right? So, again, I draw the parallels to just basic security and architecture of solutions to help circumvent or at least try to alleviate some of these problems.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:34:34] I agree, and I would add that it was a Chinese university that was doing this in a theoretical setting. I stood at the edge of my seat many many months ago - years ago, actually - and I said "I wonder how this is going to come about?" I think it could have come about worse - I think it coming about in an academic study actually proved that this is something much more theoretical than in reality. I felt if a hacker group found ways to really complicate people's lives and cause havoc, that would have been the worst way. There has to be new thinking around how we authenticate, how we validate, and how we keep that validation.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:35:15] Let me jump in and share: my biggest security concern stemmed from something that happened, I don't know, a couple of months ago, where if you had a version one of the Amazon Echo and hackers were able to penetrate it with some SD card, right? Well they got onto a device - they got root level access on the Linux file system, an operating system that runs these Echos. And my biggest concern is that somebody is just going to reverse-engineer this, find a buffer overflow, find a remote vulnerability, and then they really will have, you know, kind of bot-net type capabilities. Or if you can if you can talk to this device, you can essentially exploit it...install your own skill that that gets you root on this thing. That's my biggest fear is that people are going to get into the insides...now that they have, reverse-engineer and expose new threats. I can tell you: I know lots of security companies that have hired people to start R&D on this stuff because when there's 50 million of these devices in households, right? That's a security risk, just like your mobile phone is. It's a brand new space.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:36:28] Any device you invite in your house has the potential of being exploited. But you take a step back: most of the homes I see have panes of glass around their home. And with the tap of a small hammer, or a rock, I can gain access into your home. It's not a very secure way of living. But what we do is we make these balances in our lives. What we do is we say "I really like looking at the scenery - I like looking out." I don't want to live in a cinder block box. So, yes, when I'm gone, if somebody really wants to get in my house, guess what? They can. Have at it, because I'm not going to live like a prisoner.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:37:11] That's a great metaphor for what Amazon, I feel like, and Google too probably, to a lesser extent, needs to think about...

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:37:20] It's a balance.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:37:21] ...is the balance between this breakneck, incredible, new features every week, progress progress progress... You know, that's a beautiful thing, and like I said, we honor it on this show, and it's the stuff that needs to have books written about it. But maybe there could be a little bit more balance, because this right now is their opportunity to correct this problem and integrate thinking about these ultra-sonic sounds into the operational workflow of how they are iterating on their hardware.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:37:55] I'm going to call an audible, like I've been known to do on this show, and we've got time to discuss one more story. And the one I want to discuss...we've got some very interesting stories this week. We've got more Amazon features, of course, coming out: the two-way sync ,and everything...check that out.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:38:14] The BBC is producing a voice-based radio play, which is super interesting. It's something called #VoiceTheater.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:38:22] Dude.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:38:22] Yeah, absolutely. That goes to what you were saying, Bob, earlier, about...you know, you were talking about musicians and artists.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:38:28] Media.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:38:28] Yeah, taking advantage of the platform...this is a broader, different type of application. And you can imagine this: if you had a rap artist, for example, who put out a single and maybe every fourth bar, the user can rap a lyric. Something like that is the equivalent of what the BBC is doing with this. It's very interesting.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:38:55] It gets better. You can have the user's fans engage with it: send a recording back, and imagine running, you know, the T-Pain harmonizer! Sing it back, and it does it. The same apps that you would run on your iPad with your kids...it's just another voice app, just different user interface.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:39:14] Very, very cool, and I'm sure we'll have more implementations like this to talk about in the future.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:39:22] The fifth story is eHarmony partners with Amazon. Now this is a good one too, but I'm not going to dwell on it. Basically the gist of this is that through the Alexa skill that eHarmony has put together you can...

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:39:34] Oh my gosh.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:39:35] ...filter different types of people, prospects, that you're looking at, and engage with them in voice-first ways. Truly a different type of glimpse of things to come.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:39:46] That's crazy!

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:39:48] It is. But what I want to cover before we adjourn.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:39:51] And then the last story, of course, is what I mentioned earlier: Tim O'Reilly was on The VoiceFirst Roundtable - we look forward to releasing that later this month.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:39:58] But before we close, I want to talk about yet here's the millionth, and millionth-first, articles that the media has graced us with, talking about how Apple can "come from behind" and "win" - "win" in quotation marks; "win" being the media's terminology - with the HomePod. But this week is different: this week we had.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:40:20] It is?

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:40:20] It is, it is different, because we had new entrants from Sony and Panasonic this week, that were announced in the smart speaker market.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:40:29] So the competition just increased with two serious, big-time brands getting into I guess what we'll call the audiophile smart speaker niche. Bob, I guess I'll start with you on this, because I want to close with talking about the HomePod for a moment.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:40:46] Bob, VoiceXP is built around developing for Alexa...developing for the Alexa ecosystem. But I know you're watching the HomePod closely. All of us are getting asked about it. Do you see the HomePod being able to compete right away? Being able to compete in a year or two? Or never being able to compete? Which one?

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:41:04] Speaking on the record as an Apple fanboy, who built a career as an OS 10 Unix administrator...I've owned an Apple since the Apple II product line, OK? I'm really disappointed. The market is saturated with smart speakers, woop de do. There's 10 of them on the market - that is not innovation. I think Apple's a great company, but they're missing the mark on this. But I got to give them credit, and a lot of props, for what they're doing on the augmented reality front. I mean, their bread and butter are these bones. Unless they get a mobile voice strategy together, to amplify Siri...they need Siri version 10.0 out there, right? - they're going to miss the mark. I don't think the HomePod is going to be able to compete in this, because I don't know anybody that's going to go...I personally don't know anybody that is in a working-class environment that's going to buy an Apple HomePod. And if I were a marketer, I would be investing my money on something that has a better ROI and more opportunity. You cannot program something for a HomePod like you can a skill, or an action, for a Google or Alexa device.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:42:21] I think on it on a lot of different levels. First off, this is going to be one of the largest markets that we've ever seen. It's going to surpass the ownership of smartphones at some point in time. I believe that voice is going to be the fundamental way that we interact with computers and especially AI-mediated relationships. So if I take a long view of this, which Apple tends to take a long view, we are not even at the command-line version, and we haven't even seen the full MacOS come out. Meaning that if you look historically in the context of where we are, these systems are exceedingly, exceedingly simple. I mean what I'm building on Raspberry Pis are five generations ahead - I have full dialogues the last 15 minutes with voice-first systems already. And that's where everybody's going to go.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:43:15] So when we take a look at this we have to examine: what is Apple doing? Well, I would say that Apple listened to the wrong folks. They had a huge advantage with Siri - internally, they were not able to see Siri as more than an appendage to the OS...maybe an app to the OS. And when you looked at the internal changes at Apple, and who just took over Siri, you could see that they're taking a much more decidedly different take on what this is going to represent.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:43:47] HomePod - what is it? HomePod is Apple's way to try to find the angle into the home. They already secured the angle into the near-field, and that's AirPods. But they waffled the opportunity to showcase Siri. I think that's going to change in the next six to eight months. I think we're going to start seeing the changes next Tuesday on how Siri will start taking a much more decided forefront in Apple. And HomePod is going to lead it, on the far-field.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:44:15] HomePod is going after the same group that Apple is doing exceedingly well with, and that is Beats. And a lot of people misunderstand how the consumer thinks about purchasing Apple products. And this has always been the problem with Apple. I'm not saying that they are competing with Amazon or Google at this point. What I am saying is sometimes they define their own market.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:44:38] Yeah. You know, Apple, great brand. Extremely creative people there. You can't count them out because their cash they are sitting on, and the fact that they have the celebrity endorsement, right? They know how to get into music videos, and product placement, and get into mainstream. And I agree with what Brian said, from an artist standpoint. The problem is that this is an Apple product that's not a wearable...that you don't, you know, open in public and associate your brand, and your status, with a watch, AirPods, a phone, a laptop, right? It's a fixed thing. So it's going to be all about the marketing, the creative, and the artist brands and the music that they bring in. But I think it's fair for the voice industry to not judge the HomePod, because they're they're branding it as a smart speaker. Alexa is billed as a personal assistant. Right? So even though it's voice, let's not be too quick to judge because we might it might be apples and oranges, and I don't think it's fair to say until it's out on the market. Let's give them a chance.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:45:44] Alright, we can buy into that. I'm down with that.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:45:46] Bradley, no applesauce today? Come on!

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:45:50] You know, I'm fine with the wait and see approach. And plus, next week, you're right Brian, it will be interesting to see what they hit us with at the press event.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:45:55] All I can tell you is there's going to be a lot to talk about after what Apple does next week.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:46:07] Let's hope it's all good.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:46:09] Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time today. This was fantastic.

 

Brian Roemmele: [00:46:13] Thank you.

 

Bob Stolzberg: [00:46:13] Thank you everyone.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:46:15] Thank you for sharing your time and your insight, both Bob and Brian.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:46:18] For This Week In Voice, thank you for listening, and until next time. 

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