Top news stories for Episode 20 (December 7, 2017):

1) Voicebot.AI Story Of The Week: Amazon and Google continue #VoiceFirst skirmish as Google pulls YouTube from Echo Show (again...sort of) and Fire TV in response to Amazon retail-channel antics

2) DON'T BUY ANYONE AN ECHO!!!!111!!1! #Privacy

3) CNBC: Alexa users "buy more stuff" as brands begin to figure out how to leverage #VoiceFirst platforms for commerce

4a) Does Amazon's Alexa Really Say Jesus Is A Fictional Character?

4b) 7 Fun Christmas Things To Do Wth Alexa

5) Mashable: Dad says Google Home helped his son, with language deficits, to say his first word (additional commentary from parenting blog Mothership)

6) Sometimes, It's Hard To Be Siri

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Panel for Episode 20 (December 7, 2017):

Cathy Pearl

Cathy Pearl is VP of User Experience at Sense.ly, and author of Designing Voice User Interfaces, published by O'Reilly Media.

Transcript:

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:00:10] Hi. And welcome back to This Week In Voice, for Thursday, December 7th 2017. It's hard to believe this is our 20th episode. Time flies. It's been fun. Our sponsor for this episode, and for all VoiceFirst FM programming is VoiceXP, blazing the trail in voice technology. VoiceXP is taking the lead in 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. Please check them out. They are doing incredible work. It's been a great year for Bob Stolzburg and VoiceXP. They just got back from re:Invent, where they set the world on fire out there. Check them out if you're looking for someone to help you with developing an Alexa Skill or a Google Home Action. I am very pleased to be joined today by Cathy Pearl. Cathy, say hello.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:01:08] Hello.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:09] Thank you very much for setting this time aside. Cathy is vice president of user experience at Sensely. Cathy, tell us a little bit about what Sensely is and what you guys do.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:01:21] Sure. So Sensely, we have an app with a virtual nurse avatar and the purpose of this app is to help people with chronic health conditions, things like congestive heart failure, and you can speak to the avatar and the avatar speaks back so you'll end up having a conversation about your health.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:40] Very cool. And Cathy is also the author of Designing Voice User Interfaces which is published by O'Reilly Media. You need to go buy this book. The link is available on the ThisWeekInVoice.com page. Definitely check that out. Cathy, thank you for joining us.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:01:56] Thanks for having me back.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:01:57] Of course. And we've got a interesting group of stories here as we approach the end of the year. So story number one is our VoiceBot.AI story of the week. So if you have been listening to this show you know that every week, for some time, we've been doing a VoiceBot.AI story of the week. We love the work that Bret Kinsella is doing over there. He's really sourcing some great information for the voice-first movement.

 

Bradley Metrock: The story this week is how Amazon and Google continue their skirmish that threatens, as we head into 2018, to turn into all out war. Google has pulled YouTube from the Echo Show again and you need to read this article. It really lays it out well. So a few weeks back or maybe a couple of months back, Google pulled YouTube from the Echo Show. And then Amazon came up with some workaround for it and it sort of worked again and then now Google has pulled that work around. If I'm understanding the article correctly and in addition to that they pulled YouTube from the Fire TV now in this case in response to, in their words, Amazon pulling several Google products from their store and just doing some shenanigans with how some of the products are labeled and some other stuff that's mentioned in the article. Cathy, my question for you is, who is the loser here? Is it Google? Is it Amazon? Is it both and everybody else? And how do you see this playing out as we head into 2018?

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:03:31] I think the real loser is the consumer. And the Echo Show being visual, and what is the primary way these days that people watch videos on YouTube? So it's the people who own an Amazon Echo Show really lose out here. I can sort of understand Google's point of view in that they want to protect one of its most valuable assets. YouTube is a huge revenue generator. But in the end I think they're hurting themselves because who is going to be angry at them? The people who own the Show. I'm really curious to see how this is going to play out. Will they reach some kind of agreement? Will they bow to consumer pressure? And I think the Show has....it's not like it's equivalent to say Google deciding not to show YouTube on iPhone which should be such a huge outcry that I'm sure that they would cave, but with a smaller product like that, I think they're testing the waters to see if they can get away with it and I don't know what's going to happen, and hopefully they can resolve this and give people YouTube back.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:04:31] It's a convenient excuse for Google to pull YouTube from the Echo Show. You know, that Amazon has de-listed some of their products and some of their stuff. But to me, the reality is that anything Google can do to slow down Amazon's relentless march to voice victory, they probably....I'm sure they've had discussions saying it's not that bad of an idea. But the thing about it, is that Amazon is not going to be stopped. I think you're tempting Amazon to create a YouTube alternative at least in my opinion. I don't know. I think Google is making a big mistake.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:05:12] Yeah, that's a good point you made, that maybe their long game is not to always have YouTube not available but it's to slow them down because we certainly heard the rumors, when we talked about this last time, that Google is going to create their own version of the Show. And so until they get that out, maybe they're just trying to slow it down. It does seem hard to believe they would keep it off forever. We will see.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:05:35] And Amazon, the part I don't blame Google about is, when Google did this the first time, the proper response in my opinion is not for Amazon engineers to go see how clever they are and create some workaround it was time to have negotiated a solution then. And so then, Amazon figures out this backend, "Hey, we can sort of make this still work." And Google brings a hammer down again. Hopefully they do take the time now to negotiate this thing out, because Cathy, I completely agree with you that the consumer loses on this. My 6-year-old enjoys watching his Daniel Tiger and some other videos that are on YouTube on the Echo Show and hasn't been able to do that, really since the first time we talked about the story. I think he sort of gave up on it. But yeah, I completely concur. Hopefully they figure this thing out.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:06:29] Moving on to story number two. This is another glimpse into the future, I think. If story number one is a glimpse of what's to come in 2018. I think story number two is, as well. This story is written by a guy named Adam Clark Estes and it's called, "Don't Buy Anyone an Echo!" And it caught my attention. You know, every week, or every other week or so, we talk about a story that has to deal with privacy and privacy is going to continue to be a huge concern. But the difference between this story and so many others is the tone that the author takes, a really aggressive tone saying essentially, "You all are fools for participating in this market, and patronizing any company making one of these devices." It really caught me by surprise. And Cathy, I want to get your take on this article and if you agree with anything that was in it and how it struck you.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:07:30] Yeah. Also this is a tagged in Gizmodo as part of their Grinch Week posts, so it definitely...

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:07:40] I must have missed that, but they hit that out of the park.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:07:42] I think that was definitely a key factor, but yeah, I saw this article on Boing Boing, actually. Cory Doctorow linked to it, and I was definitely taken aback by it. I think one thing I want to reiterate, one thing that's important for everyone to understand, of course, is that this idea of the "always on, always listening"....it's important to remind everyone that devices like the Echo, and the Home are not always sending what you say to the cloud. They're only listening locally on the device for the wake word, and until they recognize the wake word, nothing you say gets transmitted. That being said, sometimes a wake word does get activated, when you don't realize it because it thinks you said the wake word, but you didn't. When that happens the light does turn on. So if you're looking at it, you'll notice. But sometimes you're not looking at it. But you'll get another clue because you're finished speaking and you'll either hear "Sorry, I couldn't help you with that." or "I didn't understand you." So you'll quickly know that something you said, that you didn't intend, perhaps did get sent. Amazon allows, on their app, to see exactly what is streamed to the cloud and that allows you to delete those things right off the bat. So they try to protect you that way. Generally speaking, I don't worry about it too much.

 

Cathy Pearl: On the other hand is it theoretically possible to hack such a device? Sure. They point to a story from Wired where a guy physically hacked an Echo to stream the audio to a local server all the time. But it's also possible to hack your phone, which has a microphone. So if you're comfortable carrying your phone around your pocket, I don't see why these devices are any different and that's coming from someone....I am protective about my privacy in certain ways. I don't give out my phone number when I go to the store if they ask me for it, and if I stay at a hotel near Heathrow and they demand my passport, I push back. I'm not somebody who doesn't care about privacy, but these devices don't particularly worry me. One reason that might be is because I spent a long time in the IVR world dealing with these phone systems and I saw how we handled the data. It was anonymized, it was used for analysis purposes only and then it was deleted. And I trust that these companies, Amazon and Google, are doing the same thing. But I think one of the interesting things about the article that I found kind of funny, was this whole rant about how you don't need these anyway. You can do everything you can do on these devices, on your phone. So it's kind of a funny little fad that you just don't need, and it's not wrong but the whole friction-less nature of these devices means I don't do these things on my phone. I just got a new phone a Samsung Galaxy S8. First, I turn on the facial recognition to unlock it. That didn't work very well. Then I switched to the fingerprint, which still doesn't work very well. And I am not going to go pick up my phone, unlock it, and ask the weather. But I will do that with my Echo. Same thing with asking questions or things like that. So sure you don't need it. You don't need my phone. You don't need a lot of things. But it's still a very useful gadget in our lives.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:10:41] Yeah saying that there are alternatives is....it's great for you to point that out because I thought that that was another lowlight in this piece. I didn't like this piece at all. And I also found it even more objectionable when I went to the author's Twitter account and I saw that among a bunch of other stuff he was saying, he never tweeted this article out. He's tweeted out many of his other articles and this one for some reason he decided not to, and I sort of commend that decision. But I nearly tweeted something at him. I'm glad I didn't. But as far as there being alternatives....sure I can go out, and I can wash my car everyday, or I can take it to the car wash. You know what I mean? I don't go to the owner of the car wash and say, "You've got an idiotic business, because I can do this myself, man." You know? And I could just go on and on. I think that the use cases for how voice technology and voice first technology improves our lives and improves society are pretty well established at this point. I mean you know go tell somebody that has trouble moving around, and has come to rely on their Echo or their Google Home device that it's really not that important. You know what I mean?

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:12:05] It is a fair point to talk about privacy in general. Which is, it's true! As a society we are giving out more and more of our data when we use Facebook, when we use Twitter, when use anything. So information is being looked at in some way by these big corporations and usually used mostly for advertising, but some people think for more nefarious purposes. I guess my point is that I don't view these devices as any worse than these other things. If you are a person who is willing to use Gmail, and Facebook, and websites, and your phone, then I don't see this as any greater risk and I see a lot of benefit. But it's true that just in general today, we are making a trade to use these products and we are giving up a little bit of information to do so.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:12:47] Yeah, I completely agree with that. Privacy is key. And I think I take the opposite view of you, Cathy, that I have sort of given up on having a lot of privacy, and I do carry around a smartphone. I remember vividly reading an article about how people found out Samsung TVs were listening to you and I was reading that in my office and where I have, and had just put up a huge Samsung TV that was that exact model. So I laughed at that. But you know, if people want to get into your life, they've got a lot of avenues to do that.

 

Bradley Metrock: And I think the two things about the privacy issue, number one really ties back to the first story pretty well because as we enter into 2018. We're coming off a 2017 where a lot of naysayers about voice were proven completely wrong that people say that this is a fad. People are saying that this is not going to last and stuff like that. I think that we've seen enough to know that voice technology is here to stay. And so the stakes are really high for Amazon, Google....Apple's trying everything they can do to get back up to speed. And some of the other companies Samsung, Alibaba, all the others, and Microsoft. And the moment that somebody finds out that one of these companies is using data coming off of their voice technology, voice hardware in an inappropriate way. I mean, that's lights out. You know what I mean? And people stop buying that product immediately and switch to another one. So there's a lot at stake for doing that. The other thing I do want to throw in here too... In a rare smart moment for us, we lined up CFTC really early on to speak at the Alexa Conference about privacy. And so we've got one of the head attorneys at the FTC coming to speak specifically about privacy with regards to Alexa in voice-enabled devices. So it's an appropriate time for inappropriate shameless plug. (all laugh) The Alexa Conference is coming up. Check it out at alexaconference.com. But yeah, this will be....this is another one of these foreshadowing stories of what's to come in 2018. Any closing thoughts on that?

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:15:10] Just that I always like to give a message to any designers and developers out there, please, to your point. We don't want to put a stain on voice systems if you're designing and developing one, make sure you treat data in a good, private way. It's anonymized. You don't keep it around. You don't do anything bad with it. Let's not lose user's trust.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:15:31] That's great. I appreciate you saying that and hopefully people take that to heart. Moving on to story number three, from CNBC. Alexa users quote, "buy more stuff", as brands begin to figure out how to leverage voice first platforms for commerce. So, Alexa voice platform provides a powerful marketing channel for brands to sell direct. Lee wrote in the notes. So this Mizuho Securities analyst was writing about this. And I found this really interesting just how far we've come. I included the story primarily just to show how far we've come. It's a very positive statement on Alexa. But I think it's also a very positive statement for voice technology in general. It wasn't too long ago. I mean you know half a year ago, a year ago, where you were seeing articles and people saying the exact opposite. No one's ever going to trust these devices to to buy stuff through them. And now we've got an analyst off of Wall Street saying the exact opposite. So Cathy, my question for you is, sort of in general, how did this article strike you? And for you, personally do you feel comfortable using like an Echo or voice technology for commerce or do you think there's still a ways to go?

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:16:49] It took me a while to be comfortable ordering anything on my Amazon Echo. I'd owned it for quite a while, and I still don't really do that very much, but I use it for reordering things like cat food. I mean, on one hand, people who buy an Amazon Echo, probably a lot of them are Amazon Prime people who are buying stuff anyway, so it doesn't really shock me that they would be buying more things. But I think it is this interesting new paradigm where we're still in the early days as these companies try to figure out how can they do this.

 

Cathy Pearl: One thing that really puzzled me, though, about the article, and how they talk about how it's going to be this great platform for cross-selling all those things. They talked about the Pampers app, for example, that they have an Alexa app that can advise you as to which diapers buy and things like that. Who is going to invoke a Pamper Skill? I mean, I just find it still kind of....I don't know how this is going to work. How are they going to push the idea of buying other things through the Echo? To me, that still has yet to be figured out. Now, there is this new notification feature and I really, really, really hope that retailers don't abuse it. Personally, for example, I wouldn't mind it if, when it was about time to order cat food again, I got a little reminder notification, that wouldn't bother me. But it would bother me to hear from other retailers or even the same retailer with other sort of promotional things to buy, and ads, and things like that....I would really, really dislike that. So I think it is a fascinating new channel, but to me, I still don't know how exactly they're going to accomplish this in a good way.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:18:21] It is interesting to wonder sort of the workflow by which habits get broken. My wife handles the majority, she'd probably say the entirety, of purchasing for our household. And she loves using Alexa. She's an attorney. She doesn't do any of the stuff, she doesn't follow the technology nearly as closely. But she has taken to Alexa. She loves using it for music. And her, and my son, and myself use it for weather and news and some other things. But she has not used it for commerce yet. And I think that day is coming. I think it's a matter of Amazon partnering with some of these companies. Pampers is a great example. Somehow they've got to come up with a way....and you've seen them experiment. I've seen them experiment a little bit with stuff like this. And they've marketed a little bit in some of their ads. But they've got to nudge people into taking that first step into the water of using these devices for commerce. And I think those Dash Wands were a good first step where you like....whatever that thing is where you push the button to reorder a product. That was a good step into the baby pool on this thing, even though it wasn't voice. You're still ordering something sight unseen. Right. And I could tell you for a 100 percent fact, if my wife knew that she could use Alexa to save 10% on paper towels, she would do that. So I think to take the next step, there's just got to be the right inducements to get people to break their habits and then marketing those inducements.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:20:07] Yeah, the reorder to me is the perfect use case that makes sense. That's certainly how I got into it.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:20:13] Sure.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:20:13] I have yet to browse for a new product, even something generic like paper towels, and I find it hard to feel like that would be a comfortable shopping experience to just the voice browse products and choose when to order and I'm not there yet.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:20:27] Yeah. Well, we're not either. But I think that as we look at 2018, this is something that I'm sure Amazon having meetings on top of meetings about, as well as Google, as well as everybody else, figuring out there's a lot of money at stake in cracking the code of how to get people comfortable with voice commerce. But as this article indicates, we're well on our way there. Moving on to story number four, which is a two-parter. And I want to preface this by saying, I've noted on this show and a couple other shows before. The very first people that I knew who bought an Amazon Echo were my parents, and that in and of itself is fairly surprising considering their general absence of technological knowledge. I'm sure they're listen to this thing and they're going to have something to say. I just lost a couple of Christmas presents there. But so they were the first people I knew that had one. And then it was a couple, it was I guess a week and a half ago, over Thanksgiving or somewhere around there, my mom tells me I'm going to have to get rid of my Alexa now. And never mind that it's not an Alexa. But I'm going to have to get rid of my Alexa now. And I said, "Why?" And she's like,"Did you see the story about it?"

 

Bradley Metrock: And sure enough the way all these....you reach a certain age I guess you get all of your news from Facebook. She had seen a story on Facebook about somebody who had asked Alexa about Jesus Christ. And it said it's a fictional character. And I just thought, OK. So I just sort of ignored that realizing that if that there was something....I knew that she wasn't making it up but I just sort of didn't think anymore about it at the time. And then I saw another article about it this week, which I've linked to in the show notes. And what has apparently happened is the person who is mentioned in the article is a fairly well-known conservative rabble-rouser. But he wouldn't be one to lie about this. So what it appears like what has happened is, indeed, at some point in the past if you asked Alexa, "Who is Jesus Christ?" or "Who is Jesus?" It gives you this answer that somebody came up with about it's a fictional character so on and so forth. And now they have changed that. And apparently this is documented as well, they've changed pretty quickly after this whole news story surfaced to just link to the Wikipedia page. I'm a Christian, but I'm also a big free speech person, and I'm not going to sit there and say Amazon should have said one thing or not said another. But I find this super interesting that we're getting to the point now with voice technology where we've penetrated deep enough into the culture to where these sorts of things matter. And Cathy, I want to just get your thoughts on this story and just your thoughts on....I think that this ties into trust. People trust Amazon so much and I think that they have been able to successfully sort of navigate this, but in the future with search, there's going to be so many competing interests trying to make these devices say certain things. When you ask them a question and I see this tying into that as well. I guess my question is how does this story strike you? And do you think that this is just a momentary blip on the radar or do you think that this is a sign of things to come in terms of people arguing about what these voice assistants say when you ask them a question?

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:24:17] I found this article, or this video, very interesting because it was something I hadn't really spent that much time thinking about. And there were a bunch of people saying, "Oh, this is a hoax, this is a hoax. You can use that command, "simon says" to have your Echo say anything you want. Like, "Cathy is awesome." I can have the Echo say that is it a hoax. I mean, who can say? And the one thing that made me a little bit suspicious was the answer to, "Who is Muhammad?" Because Alexa just started saying these long sentences with no punctuation, which is a little odd for content. But on the other hand, I could perfectly believe that it's not a hoax. The thing is, I think that people don't necessarily realize is that not everything that comes out of one of these assistants is this carefully crafted, curated wording. A lot of it is automated. You know it goes to Wikipedia a lot. So it wouldn't have surprised me if the thing about how "Jesus is a fictional character" wasn't something somebody deliberately....that kind of made me kind of roll my eyes at it, that it's Amazon pushing the far left liberal agenda that somebody deliberately put that in, and I don't believe that.

 

Cathy Pearl: But I can see that some automated thing picked a source, that wasn't the appropriate source for this question, and we're going to see that in the future as well. Because as these assistants, they have more and more responses, not everything will be vetted by three humans and signed off on that. So I can see it happening again. I remember way back in the IVR days I was working on a mail system, this is before smartphones, and we were working with Yahoo to allow people to have their e-mail read with text to speech over the phone. Can you imagine? But we had put in some little things like, if you had over 100 messages, new messages, the voice talent said, "Oh my god, you've got over a hundred messages." And one of my coworkers said, "You really should take that out because some people are going to be offended by that." And I was like "Oh, really?" So being one of those liberals in Silicon Valley, I think it's an important reminder that technology is not neutral, because the responses that we're putting in are from humans. Whether it's on purpose or not, it still comes from a human. And we need to keep that in mind when we're pushing content. So I'm sure this will will come up again. I'll also say this video the guy made a racist comment about how many people in Black Lives Matter have stolen an Echo. So I don't really want to give this guy much of a platform.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:26:43] I didn't see that. I did not see that.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:26:46] I watch the whole 12 minute thing. So he's not my favorite guy there.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:26:53] Yeah, I'm not any sort of fan myself. I know who he is, but I did not watch the whole video. So I guess that tells you something about my level of interest. But the interesting side of this issue, this particular episode, I think is another sort of foreshadowing thing. I think we're going to run into this again and again and again and again and again. There's so many companies....everyone's going to come to rely on this technology and it's not hard to sort of brainstorm some examples. I can imagine you know asking Alexa tell me about some company and then it gives a Wikipedia.If it gives the Wikipedia back....Maybe the Wikipedia says the company is out of business and the company is in business. And then the company loses its business because of that. The company misses out on a contract. Or if people become aware that Alexa....I'm just using Alexa, it could be any of these things. Somebody might ask Siri, "Tell me about Russia or tell me about..." Any example I've used on a previous show. "Who is the front runner for the Democratic nominee for president?" And it gives some answer from Wikipedia. People don't like the answer, for different reasons. And then even worse, somebody figures out that it's pulling from Wikipedia and then they just go into Wikipedia and edit it. No one sees it for three, four straight days, and it's giving out some damaging, wrong answer. I think we're going to run into this again and again because you're right there's so much surface area to these voice assistants that humans can't touch at all. So yeah, I think that's a pretty good sign of things to come.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:28:45] And I mean it's sort of a similar problem to what search engines are already facing, when you do a search on Google or wherever. They've also had to deal with this problem where maybe the first result that their automated algorithm turns up, is not the one they want to be shown on their front page. So they've had to deal with that as well. The other thing that was interesting in the video that he asked....I forget who it was, and so on so did....now it's about Bruce Jenner's dumb comment. But anyway, the response that Alexa gave was something like, as far as I know, he is still alive, or she is still alive. And I thought that was a really interesting hedge that they're kind of saying, "Well, my information shows that they're still alive but I'm not the 'all-seeing, all-knowing'." So that was an interesting wording choice on Amazon's part.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:29:36] It's very interesting. So that was in the video with the conservative guy in the back. Yeah. I don't envy their task. They've got a lot of work to do.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:29:49] It's not an easy thing to solve.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:29:50] Yeah. So I think the bottom line, as far as I'm concerned, is just taking a deep breath and realizing that it's just another piece of evidence that we live in the so-called information age, but you better better verify the information coming at you before you do too much with it. The second article that's part of this two-parter story on This Week In Voice....I found it to be an interesting yin-yang with the first one. It's Seven Fun Christmas Things To Do With Alexa. And it's a really fun article. I encourage people to read it and check it out. The one that stood out to me, the one that I know we'll be using in our household, is tracking Santa. I think that's exciting. And I know Google Home's got to track Santa application as well. That's a Google Home Action that they've come up with. I guess my question for you, Cathy, on this is, the way things are going to go is that companies and brands are figuring out how they can provide fun stuff to do at holiday seasons, to get in front of customers. What were your thoughts as you look at this?

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:30:57] Yeah, I like the idea that these companies are adding seasonal things such as this. My favorite was probably the Christmas Sounds. I thought that was interesting, including what happens when you say, "Alexa, stop." We also found one on Google Home, that was called, "Call Santa", where you can get connected to Santa's workshop, and have a conversation with Santa. That was my son enjoyed that one. One of the things that struck me about this in particular, it's not necessarily Christmas-specific, is that it's back to that whole fundamental problem of discoverability. So I asked for one of these Christmas Skills. I didn't say it right. And so Alexis said, "Oh, do you mean this one or that one or the Christmas Gifts one," Which is not mentioned in the article, so I'm like, "Oh, Christmas Gifts! That sounds interesting." So I tried to enable that Skill. I couldn't get it to enable. I looked online and found a Christmas Gift Skill. I couldn't still couldn't enable it even though I said exactly what was on the screen. How are you going to even tell somebody else, like, "Oh you can ask Alexa, they recommend Christmas Gifts." But you have to give them that exact sequence of words in order to invoke it.

 

Cathy Pearl: And this is still this fundamental problem with about 25,000 Skills. How many do you use? I use one or two at the most because I can never remember how to invoke them. And this is going to continue to be a problem for quite a while. That being said the beauty of these systems, on the other hand, is this fact that sometimes it does work, to spontaneously ask for something, and when we did it for Christmas music on December 1st, which in our household, we do not listen to any Christmas music before December 1st. And we just said, "Hey Alexa, play some Christmas music." And it worked. I don't have to think about what's the Skill. I even said I didn't really like the songs that were playing. I said let's play some different Christmas music and it switched to a different channel of music. So that kind of stuff is so cool when you can ask for something and it works. But on the flipside, it's so hard to find and to know and to remember all these other Skills.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:32:54] Yeah and that's a great point. Discover-ability, in the context of seasonal skills or actions. It just raises the urgency all the more, right? Because you only have a finite amount of time to make hay with those skills and to get utilization out of it. Yeah, I think discoverability is another thing as we head into 2018. That's a big, big problem for people to try to solve. Christmas music has been blaring in our house since after Thanksgiving as well. And thank you for not playing it before Thanksgiving that's demonstrably too early. We're in complete agreement on that. This will be something to watch. I totally agree and actually had not really thought about the discoverability aspect of it. But you're right on the money with that. I appreciate you saying that.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:33:43] I think the only skill I can ever remember how to invoke is Meow Meow.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:33:49] There's nothing wrong with that. Moving on to story number five. This is an interesting one too. It's from Mashable, and I encourage people to read it and then there's a video with this that people should check out too. This Dad says the Google Home helped his son who has some language acquisition issues to say his first word. And then I included a little bit of an additional commentary from a parent blog that sort of shaded it a little bit more. I thought it was interesting. You had, predictably, some people saying you know how unfortunate it is that Google is somebody's first word. I thought that that paled in comparison to just the overall outcome of the child being helped with his language. But Cathy, my question for you is, did you see this as a positive story? Did you see it as a negative story. And do you agree with me that this is a sign of things to come with voice assistants being more and more useful with helping children learn not just language, but all sorts of stuff.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:34:53] Yeah, I see it as positive. I mean, you can certainly take a cynical view like, "Oh Google, the big corporation that's taking over our world and how terrible it's the first word of this child." But I don't see it that way. Technology certainly has its downsides. Make no mistake. But it also has its bonuses. This article reminded me....recently I heard an excerpt from Susan Etlinger's TED talk. She's talking about her son, who was diagnosed as autistic and didn't speak. And one day when he was 4, she found him in front of the computer typing into the Google search box, searching for words like school and bus. And they didn't even know that he could read or spell or do any of that stuff. And again, you might be cynical like, "Oh it's Google." But I mean it's amazing! What an amazing way that they were able to sort of....find out that he had this whole inner world. I was thinking going on....they didn't even know. So I love to see these examples where voice or other technology is benefiting people. One of the comments that was posted the article from from Reddit talking about autistic children and how they had an example an autistic child who loves to use the Echo to practice asking questions. I think it can also be used to help teach people who have trouble with understanding other people's emotions. We can use these tools to help people learn that in a safe way. Another story was about someone talking about his elderly father who needed a lot of help, but really had a lot of pride and didn't want to bother his kids, but was happy to ask Alexa for help. So I think on the whole, I see this as a very positive story.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:36:33] Yeah, I do too. And I was a child that didn't speak until very late. I think it was late 3s.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:36:42] Interesting.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:36:43] Yeah. And I think my parents would have loved to have had this type of technology around because my parents thought I would never talk. That was a distinct possibility.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:36:52] Here you are on the radio.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:36:54] Boy, were they wrong. And sometimes they wish they could put the genie back in that bottle. But yeah, I've found this to be very exciting. Just the story on its face, but also the glimpse into the future of all the different use cases and you named some of them, which I thought were great, about this sort of technology can improve people's lives. That's really what all this is about. Nobody cares about this technology, unless it's improving people's lives, and not making them worse. There's no evidence that suggests that if the first word out of your mouth is Google, that you're going to go out and have a bad life or something. So I think that that is a very cynical view. I thought this was overwhelmingly positive and I look forward to 2018 of seeing a lot of different, some predictable and some very surprising, ways that this technology helps children. I think it's exciting.

 

Bradley Metrock: Moving on to story number six. It's almost become customary to include some sort of Apple postlude as the last story of This Week In Voice. But this one is actually not bad. It's called, Sometimes It's Hard To Be Apple's Siri. And this article which is written by a predictably pro-Apple person. It does a very good job of explaining why it's not all doom and gloom for Siri as we enter 2018. Cathy, I want to ask you, number one, if you agree with that premise, and then number two, from what y'all do at Sensely, and just your vantage point, from a professional level, of what is it going to take in 2018 for Apple to get to the point where it's on par with Google and Amazon as technologies that, for example Sensely views as essential to its voice first strategy.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:38:49] One of the things I think about with Siri is the fact that they were the first virtual assistant, voice assistant, out of the gate. And they had a tough road, when they came out, Siri was really designed to do about 15 or 20 things really well, but it was pushed out as a "How can I help you?" assistant. And it failed in a lot of ways. But they were the early early adopters. Siri has got an uphill battle to sort of gain back its reputation, because I think it has a lot of people have negative feelings about it because when they use it the first time, it didn't work correctly, and so they've abandoned it. So getting over that is really tough. Whereas when you look at something like Echo, or Home, especially Echo, because it was the first of its kind. It was sold as something like, look you could use this to play music and maybe a couple other things, but that's it. And so when it turned out that it could do other things....and also, first of all, it could do things like play music really, really well. So it builds up some trust. And then when people found out, "Oh, I can do these other things!" They were delighted because it was an add-on, not like Siri where they expected more. So it's tough for Apple to get past that.

 

Cathy Pearl: What can they do? I'm not sure. I guess just continue to improve their technology and somehow they're just going to have to get their reputation back and convince enough people that Siri works really well and get that spread around. The article....I would really to see more details about the study, because I found some of the results kind of confusing. For example, they didn't really explain how they ask people about satisfaction. They said Siri had the high satisfaction rate, and that was something like 65 percent. And what does that mean? Sixty-five percent being highest, is also kind of sad that that's out of all the assistants they tried. That was the highest satisfaction rate? That's not so great. And I was, quite frankly, surprised that Siri was ranked higher in satisfaction rate to the Amazon Echo and the Google Home because personally, I find those much more satisfying to use than either my Google Now on my phone, or my Siri. I haven't used Cortana that much. So I'd like to sort of understand more details, and how did they simulate noisy environments at home, for example, what do they do for that. I also thought that was a shame how clearly some tasks are slanted to your phone assistant, versus your home assistant. Things like deleting text messages. Obviously, that's not going to go very well on your Google Home versus your actual phone. Tasks like, they asked them to multiply nine times four and then it was ranked 1 through 5 for each assistant. How did they rank that? Did some of them get it wrong? What was the way they rated that?

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:41:28] So what did they do? Measure computational response things?

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:41:35] This article left me sort of unsatisfied. I wanted to know, like, what was your methodology? How did this work? But I think it's good news for Apple that Siri performed as well as it did.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:41:44] That's true. And I appreciate you pointing that out there. The Apple tech press has a way of presenting things in the best possible light for the company, and glossing over a bunch of stuff. You mentioned the satisfaction ratings, which reminds me of how in almost every Apple event that Tim Cook has done....certainly in the last few of them. He's mentioned this totally random customer satisfaction. I remember him saying that the customer satisfaction for iPad is 97 percent. What does that mean? That sort of demands some further explanation, or just demands completely ignoring it. Either way, my satisfaction survey....my satisfaction with Siri is 100 percent because I'm very satisfied never using it. And my wife uses it to ask sports scores and weather if she's on the go and stuff. And it gives correct information.

 

Bradley Metrock: But yeah, to me, I think for Siri to get back in the game....they've got a tough spot, right? Because Amazon has been so successful in planting the flag and saying, "We run this thing." When Google Home....Google folks probably don't agree with that and certainly Google has aspects and attributes that make it unique....but for where Apple sits, they're not going to catch Amazon in terms of developer relations. And Google does a good job with that too. The likelihood of having the quantity of applications for the Siri platform, the likelihood of them matching Amazon and Google is zero. They'll never do it. So they shouldn't try. Really, to me, the way for Apple to get back in the game is to spend some of that money they've got sitting in these offshore bank accounts and go make a couple of key acquisitions of companies doing interesting things in voice technology that can then be unique to the platform, that will require people to come in and use Siri and continue to be in habit formation of using Siri. So to me that's their only road out. Otherwise they're dead in the water. But that's my opinion.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:44:10] One other thing that the article briefly touches on is microphone technology. I have both the Google home and my Android phone and I find the voice recognition so much better on my Google Home than on my phone. It recognizes me so much more often on the home, and a lot of that, to me, is down to the microphone technology. And this far-afield microphone technology that most home assistants have now is really, really good. And on your little phone, the microphones have not been able to replicate the same performance.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:44:41] That's interesting. It's definitely believable. It's interesting just to think about....if Apple had any other name. You replace Apple with....I'm going to offend some companies here. If you replace Apple with like Lenovo or something like that. Some company with far less cache and brand equity built up. I just think people would be far less forgiving of some of the stuff going on with them. And it will be just casting such a different light. I mean, if to use this example again, I already used it once if Lenovo had Siri, we wouldn't even be talking about it. You know what I mean? It would just be like "OK, well, nice try." (all laugh) But because it's Apple, we view them in a different way, as I've said before. I'm hopeful that they commit philosophically to voice-first technology in a much more profound fashion in 2018 than they did in 2017. But time will tell. Cathy, thank you very, very much for being part of this with us today and for giving us some of your time and sharing your insight and expertise with us it's greatly appreciated.

 

Cathy Pearl: [00:45:48] My pleasure. It was great to talk.

 

Bradley Metrock: [00:45:50] For This Week In Voice, Episode 20. Thank you for listening. And until next time.

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