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Top news stories for Season 2, Episode 6 (March 1, 2018):

1) Put a ring on it: Amazon gets wallet out, buys "Shark Tank reject" Ring for more than $1 billion after being a previous investor via the Alexa Fund

2) Voicebot.AI Story Of The Week: Google Announces Carrier and OEM Programs For Google Assistant

3) Shopping By Voice Set To Explode...And Guess Who'll Benefit The Most?

4) Amazon announces expansion of developer payment program to include developers of top Alexa skills for children


4a) The Verge: A Fourth Grader Reviews The Amazon Alexa Echo Dot and Google Home Mini

5) The Alexa Conference announces sponsorship by Amazon; now formally known as The Alexa Conference, Presented By VoiceFirst.FM (Jan 15-17, 2019; Chattanooga, TN)



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Panel for Season 2, Episode 6 (March 1, 2018):

Dan Miller is founder and lead analyst at Opus Research, a diversified research and analysis firm providing critical insight on software and services that support multimodal customer care.

Amy Stapleton is CEO and co-founder of Tellables, which creates interactive story games designed to be told by voice assistants and talking robots.



Bradley Metrock: [00:00:11] Hi and welcome back to This Week In Voice. Today is Thursday, March the 1st. This is Season 2, Episode 6 - very proud to be in our second season of This Week In Voice - we're off to a great start. My name is Bradley Metrock. I'm CEO of a company called Score Publishing based here in Nashville, Tennessee. Our sponsor for This Week In Voice is VoiceXP, blazing the trail in voice technology. VoiceXP is a St. Louis based company that creates Alexa skills for businesses. And as we have spoken about on this program the past few weeks, they have now joined the Capital Innovators Startup Accelerator Program which is a top 10 startup accelerator based in St. Louis. That's up there with Y Combinator, Techstars and some others. If you are looking for someone to create an Alexa skill for your business, you need to reach out to Bob Stolzberg who's the founder of VoiceXP. He's a friend of the program. He's a friend of voice technology in general. He'll help steer you in the right direction and help you do that, and help you do that in a cost effective way as well,


Bradley Metrock: [00:01:22] We are very pleased to have a phenomenal panel today. Amy Stapleton, CEO of Tellables, is joining us - Amy say hello.


Amy Stapleton: [00:01:30] Hi everybody.


Bradley Metrock: [00:01:31] Amy tell us a little bit about what Tellables is and what y'all are doing.


Amy Stapleton: [00:01:35] Tellables is a company that's making interactive story games. So those are short conversational voice experiences that you can have with a voice assistant. And right now they're kind of designed to be educational and entertaining. So I guess our claim to fame is the tricky genie skill, and we're actively working on some new story experiences. We're hoping to release those pretty soon, and then at the latest later this year. So if you want to find out more you can listen to Episode 7 of the Alexa Podcast.


Bradley Metrock: [00:02:06] Wow - love that. That's synergy, that's the corporate buzzword that we'll use for that reference. Thank you very much Amy.


Bradley Metrock: [00:02:15] We also have Dan Miller on the program - Dan say hello.


Dan Miller: [00:02:19] Hi everybody.


Bradley Metrock: [00:02:20] Dad is Founder and Lead Analyst at Opus Research. Dan, tell us a little bit about what you do and what Opus Research does.


Dan Miller: [00:02:29] Sure - glad to. So I think we're old school voice services and that sort of thing. It's a company I founded back in 1986 and was looking at how voice technologies and other interactive services were being merged with things going on in context centers. But in the past five years let's say we've been pursuing what - I coined the term "conversational commerce" back in 2011. And this was about looking at where stuff going on the web got married with many of the technologies, including speech processing, natural language understanding, and all sorts of things that contribute to better conversations across phones. Now these intelligent endpoints and speakers and that sort of thing, and we're living in a very exciting time for me. So this stuff I've been writing about and envisaging - if that is a word - what we're envisioning you know back last century is all sort of coming to pass, just didn't have the timing exactly right.


Bradley Metrock: [00:03:37] A beautiful thing and I did happen to see, which I did not know, that you coined the term "conversational commerce". As you might have noticed, we've got a bit of that on the program today.


Dan Miller: [00:03:48] That's inescapable.


Bradley Metrock: [00:03:50] Yeah that's very cool - Dan thank you for joining us as well.


Bradley Metrock: [00:03:55] Sure. Thank you for having me.


Bradley Metrock: [00:03:56] So with that we'll get to the news. Our first story this week, Amazon gets the wallet out. They bought Ring for more than one billion. I think I read this as the second largest acquisition that Amazon has ever made. There's a lot to this. One of the things I found most interesting, and I think really bodes well for the voice-first landscape, is the fact that Amazon did this after already being an investor in the company via the Alexa Fund. I think that just really gives the Alexa Fund, and everything that they're doing with Alexa, a lot of tailwind just for that reason alone. But I want to turn to the panel. I want to get y'all's take on this, and Amy I'm going to start with you. What is your take from Amazon buying Ring? Are you excited about it? Are you upset about it or you think it holds a lot of promise? What are your thoughts?


Amy Stapleton: [00:04:52] Well you know I think it's interesting. I don't know that I'm upset or excited about it either way. I just think it kind of shows that Amazon really wants access to the home. And you know that's one way for them to get closer to where you live and to being able to get inside the house to deliver packages or whatever.


Amy Stapleton: [00:05:13] One thing that I thought was interesting is there was another article this week that came out in Forbes about the shift from the importance of hardware to the importance of the you know AI voice assistant and how the company that owns the ecosystem of the voice assistant is really going to own the future. So the software platform is much more important than the hardware platform, but then this acquisition in a way - I mean it doesn't refute that premise - but it kind of shows that hardware I guess can be can be pretty important too. I think Amazon wants to hedge its bets and not just be the voice assistant platform of choice in the home, but also the owner of some of those hardware products that people actually, that the end user is actually putting in their home.


Dan Miller: [00:06:06] The two aren't divorced, the hardware versus software. So we're looking at a lot more intelligent endpoints, be it in the home, be it in the car. I do want to bring up that Jamie Siminoff, who is the Founder of Ring, had been sort of a serial entrepreneur and there are strong links to the voice processing industry in that he was CEO of a company called SimulScribe, which changed its name to PhoneTag, would have been like 10 years ago I think, and was one of the first companies doing voice-to-text transcription specifically for voice mail systems. So chances are if you have a mobile phone and you have one of those services that shows the content of a voicemail that somebody left for you, you're using something that he has already sold to companies that were doing that as carriers.


Dan Miller: [00:06:59] So it almost moves us over to the next story. I'm sure there was a strong appreciation on Jamie's part of the power of voice and certainly on Amazon's part of getting deeper hooks into the breadth of what voice face commerce promises. So it is hardware, it is software and it is you know end to end commerce; so there's the order entry and all the way to fulfillment and delivery.


Bradley Metrock: [00:07:26] There's nothing that signals that something like this is going to happen than someone making some sort of proclamation, some sort of bold statement that you know software is more important than hardware you know. It is no sooner than someone comes out saying something like that that this happens. But you know that's great commentary all the way around. I am excited because I deeply respect, as I've talked on this program before, I deeply respect Amazon's market leadership. They're being very bold in the marketplace. They indisputably dominate smart speaker, you know the mainstream smart speaker market, and all of the associated products they have in the Echo line and getting the wallet out spending over a billion dollars for an entirely new set of hardware to go along with the Echo ecosystem, the echo system, it's impressive. So you know I like seeing what they're doing because you know it's going to be tied into voice-first applications, you know that that's the impetus behind so much of what the company is doing. I love the story. I think it was great and I'm excited to see what they do. Any closing thoughts before we move on?


Amy Stapleton: [00:08:38] Just that the shark tank investors really missed out I guess.


Bradley Metrock: [00:08:42] They sure did.


Dan Miller: [00:08:44] And I would also say that Amazon has made a number of acquisitions that showed great foresight. You know they've done a speed track that is very accurate. In Ivona they have done this speech-to-text and they have a way of marrying it with their own internal development. So you'll see some of the best brains in the business taking advantage of the raw material they're getting with these acquisitions.


Bradley Metrock: [00:09:12] Excellent. So we will move on to story number 2 which is our story of the week. is a very good website for news and commentary in the voice and AI realm. We have a story of the week every week and this week it is Google announces carrier and OEM programs for Google Assistant and it was interesting to see this. And before I even say anything about this, I want to get the panel's take on what they think is going on here. Dan I'm going to start with you. Are you encouraged by this? Do you think that this was a move out of necessity? Tell me your take as you read this story.


Dan Miller: [00:09:57] So it's Mobile World Congress Week. There's a lot of attention being paid to you know what the major carriers position is going to be in a voice-first world. I'm not a big fan of declaring winners and losers and I am one of those people that think that we have to have sort of an open environment, as much as you talked of the echo system, which I do like that a ton, versus the platforms and for service creation and running you know Google skills. It has this image of an arms race in a war, and it also has you know a certain amount of confusion for the developers themselves. But when you look at those who have the largest stake in these services, which were essentially communications based even though there are endpoints, there are transactions, and there are all sorts of things going on. You know and it's wise to reach out to the global giants in telecommunications. You know be it Orange, be it Telefonica, be it whomever, we're going this ways that they want to leverage their longstanding infrastructure to do everything from you know providing high speed communications which is fundamental to this, to having transaction processing, all those sorts of things even though you know Amazon clearly has that in spades. But you know you look through Google's history and when they wanted to roll out a phone or you know bring search or high speed internet to a remote areas they know pretty well what role and what power you know big carriers have.


Amy Stapleton: [00:11:49] Let me chime in too. I was actually interested to get your take on this Dan because we haven't said this yet, but Dan and I are recent colleagues because I was an analyst with Opus after I retired from NASA a couple of years ago. And when I saw the announcement and I looked at the video that was posted on with Telefonica doing their presentation, it looked like they were trying to integrate their customer support virtual assistant which I know based on the work we did together Dan, that they had this company Ivo that had created the movie star virtual assistant which could you know answer customer questions about data usage and maybe change their mobile plan and stuff like that. So it looked like they were trying to integrate that company specific chatbot if you will into Google Assistant and they kind of demoed that a little bit, but they're actually keeping, Telefonica is naming the assistant Aura, so they have their own name Aura and then the customer can apparently contact Aura and find out things about their Telefonica plan through the Google Assistant. Is that kind of how you understood what was going on? I wasn't sure if I was really understanding it or not.


Dan Miller: [00:13:04] Yeah and there was a kitchen sink element to it, so previous investment in the virtual assistant that's baked in was certainly there. I'll tell you this, as I watched the demo what I was impressed with, and you know they brought up Microsoft and Cortana and Lewis with some of the mumblings of an open approach. So you're not married to you know Alexa and it's tools, you can shop for the understanding entity that you want to use. And to your point, stuff that was developed for the last generation or for you know - and Telefonica is a huge company with several subsidiaries well not subsidiaries but affiliates - on a country by country basis. There have been a number of acquisitions. You can see them leveraging the investment they've made in both voice-first and virtual agents. So to your point Amy, it's all of the above and it signals a certain openness to you know several approaches being supported.


Bradley Metrock: [00:14:12] It's interesting to look at this story because you definitely get the sense of Google beginning to get a little bit better at understanding where the points of vulnerability against Amazon may be. And with mobile devices, of which Amazon does not have one, that easily could be it. And before we move on I want to just go back to Amazon for a second and ask y'all the question. Do you think that Amazon, in the wake of news like this, you know Google working to get device specific commands with Google Assistant and with these OEM's and whatnot? Do you think, and I guess it will be going on the record, do you think that Amazon will try a phone again? Or do you think that they're going to try to create a world where we need a phone a little bit less and that'll be their approach? What are your thoughts? And Amy I'll start with you.


Amy Stapleton: [00:15:05] I guess if I had to bet, I would say the latter, that they're trying to create a world where we're not really relying upon the phone.


Dan Miller: [00:15:12] It's a great question. I think we're seeing nothing short of the redefinition of what a phone is. So the phones generally are being distributed across a number of different endpoints and almost non-endpoints so it's hard to say in one breath that you know in one half of the brain that these are you know deviceless, these being virtual agents or the thing that we talk to to get stuff done. You know ideally it's divorced from, and here's that hardware software discussion again, but it's divorced from specific hardware. So yeah so I'm going to carry around a smartphone, but if I sit in my car and press a button on the steering wheel I'm going to talk to that thing. There's going to be more and more occasions where I'm using text to do the input and that sort of thing so that if the focus is on service and value and that individuals can derive from the fact that you know all of these capabilities are baked into a network, I think the mission is to devalue the hardware specifically and build the services so that I as an individual can just use my voice or use my thumbs or whatever to get what I want done.


Bradley Metrock: [00:16:38] And I guess before we move on while we're on the topic of mobile devices obviously there's Apple sitting there. Both of y'all are established veterans in the voice space. What are your thoughts, especially in the context of this article and what Google's doing, I'm just going to ask you the question I often ask on this program, is it too late for Apple in voice technology without making a litany of acquisitions and trying to catch up? Or do you expect them to be able to leverage their iOS user base in a similar fashion to this and gain ground? What do you think? Dan I'll start with you.


Dan Miller: [00:17:16] You know in the horse race that involves Apple and Siri I suppose Samsung and Bixby and their ecosystems, not Echo systems, you know it's never going to be too late. The hidden assets are essentially for Apple or the Apple ID, the links to Apple Pay to the rest of commerce if you will, and to the dedication of you know the longstanding fan people. So you know Apple's never been a market share leader as you look across the mobile phones. But they do have a loyal base. You know contrary to what you know every scientific analysis of the quality of Siri recognizing in 10 or recognizing words, it's right up there with the rest of them, and the rest of them I mean Google, Microsoft, Cortana and any sort of third party that comes in you know, we've seen over 90 percent accuracy for years and now you're pushing 95 to 98. That's just word recognition accuracy. You know both Apple and Google and for that matter Facebook are getting good at you know because of so much data at the understanding of words that they're capturing. But it doesn't disqualify - its close enough that Apple is not disqualified. And there are other assets that Apple has both in terms of its fan base and its technology base and its design that you're not going to see them go down very easily at all.


Amy Stapleton: [00:19:00] Yeah I mean I have to agree with what Dan said. He makes some good points. I mean it seems like you know just on a on a gut level it feels like Amazon with Alexa and Google with Google Assistant they've already penetrated so many households and people are already starting to develop a relationship with these entities that it might be hard for someone else to catch up. But in reality I think we're still very early in the market so I would be hesitant you know to rule out a comeback by Apple at this point.


Bradley Metrock: [00:19:30] Okay. So y'all are on the record. It is hard to rule them out you know and we'll see what 2018 has in store for us.


Bradley Metrock: [00:19:37] We're going to move on to story number three, shopping by voice set to explode, and guess who will benefit the most? We've got to start with the person who introduced the term "conversational commerce" the person who coined the term. Dan as you look at this article there's several things going on here. Give me your thoughts.


Dan Miller: [00:19:57] I'll tell you I've covered the area for so long that the idea of an explosion invokes the image of like a hockey stick you know. This has all been ramping up and then all of a sudden something happened to trigger the explosion, the word that they're using here. My preferred framing is you know voice is coming into its own just as we've been expecting and it's going to be organic. I think you know people anticipating an explosion are going to be disappointed but I do think, and Bradley you and the voice-first people articulated this best in the past year, there is indeed a proliferation of voice-first devices. Service developers are well counseled to treat as just that, that it's voice-first and it can invoke other things, because I think what's getting interesting you know be it the Echo Show or the fact that you know you think you can talk to a TV remote and have something happen on a screen and you know that's going to turn into search. I do think that there is a proliferation of voice-first endpoints and shopping will be among the things that people do and the fact that there's more elegant integration of visual, of text, I think that's what gets really you know much more important. So explosion is a very strong turn. Organic adoption strikes me as the way to look at it and then having the full force of multimedia, of improved recognition of intent, cutting to the chase, and shortening the time it takes to complete a transaction. You know that's what I'll be looking for. The fact that nothing's easy when you go end to end, what will temper the explosion if you will. But we're certainly seeing much more sophisticated services out there and they do accelerate the adoption of shopping and using your voice to do so.


Amy Stapleton: [00:22:06] Well there was another article published in The Wall Street Journal that was called Big Brands Risk Losing Their Voice, which I think was related to one of the key points in the shopping buy voice set to explode article, and that that was something that actually Dan and I have written about for a couple of years in terms of what at Opus, I don't know if you guys are still calling them megabots, but kind of like the you know the controlling platforms like the Alexa platform, the Google Assistant platform. Those Voice assistants are becoming gatekeepers in the sense that they're the ones that are going to be able to make the recommendations that would then drive the consumer to purchase certain products versus other products. So that's kind of an interesting conundrum and how are brands going to deal with that. And there was a cartoon that was circulating last week, I don't know if you guys saw it, it was like this lady asked Alexa to order Kleenex. She says "Alexa or to me Kleenex" and Alexa says "ordering you Amazon basic facial tissue. And she says "no I want Kleenex" and Alexa says "Amazon choice facial tissues is 30 percent off and free delivery with Prime" and she says "no I want Kleenex" and Alexa goes "getting you the weather for Phoenix." You know she's just pretending at that point that she doesn't understand that the lady wants Kleenex. So I think it is an issue and I wonder how brands are going to deal with it. You know the commodity brands it seems like they are being counseled to make sure that they're in the Amazon Basics program or something you know they're in the Amazon ecosystem and make sure you understand, if at all possible, the algorithm then Amazon uses to recommend products when people do the voice search, but that you know that's going to be tough. I mean if you're more of a specialty brand or a luxury brand you could probably find ways you know through skills or whatever to make people aware of your product. But I just don't know how commodities are going to do it. I think that this whole you know voice commerce is sort of like a winner take all thing that is setting itself up. So I do see that as an issue I don't know what you guys think about that.


Dan Miller: [00:24:14] Well I'm frowning a little bit, but I do give Amy credit for coining the term "megabot". And then you know I see Chris Messina my friend who also coined "conversational commerce" in a different context around messaging platforms, working with a company called Molley that some people refer to as the "Godbot". So this idea that the virtual assistant or voice-enabled agent operating on your behalf can be that arbiter or entity that knows your preferences, knows that you want Kleenex not generic tissue, all that sort of stuff is one of the hopes for brands frankly. We at Opus just launched coverage of what we're calling "conversational marketing" as opposed to "conversational commerce" in general to start Brand's thinking about how they want to use both the voice-first and the conversational infrastructure to forge relationships with you know turning prospects into customers, making sales.


Dan Miller: [00:25:23] You know voice can be a big part of it. You know I think Amazon did make a statement when you know Echo, when Alexa had its own voice, when the people that were developing Alexa skills, people being brands developing Alexa skills, discovered that they don't have access to voice files that they can't have Alexa talk in their voice. You know they're already figuring out how to get past those deficiencies and what the conversational model is. Clay argued that you know most conversations are taking turns between two entities and as soon as you have to say something like "Alexa ask Capital One what my balance is", which incidentally you have to first say open Capital One and then the next thing, you've kind of created not a dialogue, but a trialogue, and as Amy just said, we're at very early days and this form of conversation will not stand.


Bradley Metrock: [00:26:20] This article and yeah there were some other articles that talked to around the same issue that I saw. You know Amy you mentioned one in the Wall Street Journal. I saw another one from USA Today where they were talking about some aspects of this core concept which is, this is essentially you know many brands. I think probably properly view this as the Death Star role again with what Amazon is doing with the Echo System and Alexa and that in combination or in conjunction with their existing retail platform, because just from my standpoint as being someone who is sort of relatively new to this you know in the last couple of years, if you're counting on Amazon to refer voice searches to your product as opposed to their product that's probably not a safe assumption. That's probably not something you want to be counting on. And you know we've seen this time and again with Amazon's site where you know they'll do things that are very customer friendly from the standpoint strictly of pricing. But they're conversely you know hostile to some merchant who is on the receiving end of that. And one example that comes to mind is when Amazon rolled out, when they first rolled out the ability to sell used products on the site. And it just showed up one day you know within books and a couple of other categories that you know here's the price of the product and yes you can buy that now, or you can buy it used starting at this other price. It's about whatever 20, 30, 50 percent of the new price and people got all upset and then they eventually got over it.


Bradley Metrock: [00:28:18] But the overall theme here is that Amazon's is going to do whatever it is Amazon is going to do. And it's just interesting to try to think about what that means for the future because Amazon spent a lot of money and a lot of resources getting this infrastructure in place you know all over the place and in going to every new market that's conceivable and rolling out a new market every week it seems like internationally. But the endgame of that is less clear because you know the eventual ultimate endpoint is that brands have to control their own destiny. So I don't know. It's interesting to think about any closing thoughts on this story?


Dan Miller: [00:28:57] Well if I can do a shameless plug of one of the core topics that's going to come up at our Conversational Commerce Conference in May in London, and then again, because it's going to be an evergreen topic, and then in November we'll be in San Francisco with a Conversational Commerce Conference. You were at last year's Conference - well both of you - this is a strategic and tactical topic that's right for constant discussion. You know I'm an old hippy so I live in a world where you know open source stuff, the lack of walled gardens in terms of development environments, and the sharing of information across platforms wins out. Don't know how, but you know the Internet and Web is better than the consumer online services that preceded it. And then every effort to put a ring fence around you know exclusive hardware configurations or, like you know even with you know operating systems for mobile phones and stuff, maybe there are winners and losers but there's certainly a voice for openness and you know, we'll see and it's kind of related to that next story so I'll shut up. But you know how you build a viable value chain from individual to a brand or you know to other individuals for that matter, there's a real argument for openness and moving agency if you will closer to the intelligent endpoints. And you know right now I hear you, Amazon and has just jumped out of the pack to you know to build its ecosystem, to get a proliferation of Echo capable devices, or Echo and Alexa capable devices, out there. But we'll see, like Amy said it's still early days.


Amy Stapleton: [00:31:06] I think you're being a little overly optimistic there Dan but I agree that that's the hope, but I think just as web search completely reshuffled who won and who lost, and there they're still you know a battle being fought there, I think voice commerce is going to do the same thing and it's going to be hard to compete. And I think it's a huge opportunity, but also a huge threat. So it's going to be very interesting to see how it develops. But you know there's going to be players, the players that own the platform are definitely going to have an advantage.


Bradley Metrock: [00:31:37] Yeah I just see a future where you know you say Alexa "order me a Google Home Mini" or "Alexa order me HomePod" and she says "no thanks." You know and you can just apply it to whatever brand you want to you. Amazon will just simply divert traffic to wherever they want to. But I do want to take a minute and go back Dan to what you are saying. Yes the Intelligence Assistance Conference was phenomenal. All the events y'all do are great. I loved every minute of being out there in San Francisco for that. And so while someone is buying their passes to the Voice of Healthcare Summit in August and the Alexa Conference presented by VoiceFirst.FM in January, they also should go to Opus Research and buy passes to all of your conferences as well. They are phenomenal.


Dan Miller: [00:32:27] Thank you.


Bradley Metrock: [00:32:30] Did you enjoy that?


Dan Miller: [00:32:31] I did - thanks a lot.


Bradley Metrock: [00:32:36] Ya I loved that and so we will move on. Obviously this story will be with us for henceforth but we will roll on to story number 4. This is a two-parter and we'll cover the first part first. Amazon announces the expansion of their Development Payment Program which we talked about on the show quite a bit. We talked about it in context of needing more monetization which we've gotten now. But Amazon, even in the wake of rolling out some explicit monetization options, continues to develop this Developer Payment Program and the news this week is that it now includes and pays money to developers of top Alexa skills for children. And I want to get y'all's take on you know, and a lot of this conversation is about Amazon, you don't have to restrict it to that. Do you see monetization for, and Amy I'll start with you, do you see monetization for voice applications going the direction in the intermediate to longer term of this payment program were these sort of, this black box computes your payment and out poof here it is? Or do you see things going in the way of explicit monetization? You know here's our Google Home action and you can use it for free, but you can buy our book in there or whatever. Give me your thoughts on that.


Amy Stapleton: [00:34:02] I'm thinking that it's going to be a while before third party developers can effectively monetize their own skills you know for a lot of different reasons. I think the fact that Amazon is paying these rewards is a great thing. I mean we, Tellables, was a beneficiary of that unexpectedly last year. It really helped us as it incentivized us to keep going. You know the surefire way I guess to make money now is to be a developer of skills for brands for companies, whatever, someone wants a skill, but if you're just a you know a studio or an application creator that wants to deploy your applications, it's difficult to be discovered. In many cases a lot of voice assistant owners aren't really even aware of the third party ecosystem. So I do think it's going to be a while before that all shakes out. I think there is going to have to be some subsidizing of these creative individuals by the hardware makers or you know the ecosystem owners.


Amy Stapleton: [00:35:07] I actually went to a school last week and this kind of crosses over into the other part of this story about the fourth grader and you know his experiences with the assistants. But I mean all the kids are you know they really are very excited about interacting with a voice assistant. There's certain little things they like to ask like you know one of their favorites at the school is "Alexa beam me up" and every time they ask that she would say something different or that asking for a joke and stuff. But again they're not you know really aware of third party skills. I personally tried out the top 20 kids skills that had made it through to that level in the challenge and I thought some of them were just you know really fantastic and very creative stuff. But it's going to be hard to monetize things like that. So I do foresee and you know my hope is that the platform providers will continue to reward and subsidize those that want to experiment and try to innovate, at least for the for the next couple of years let's say.


Dan Miller: [00:36:09] I kind of defer to Amy on this because she does have the experience you know with the development, with the subsidy. I just point to what's going on with you know, I mentioned it before, the apps for smartphones where you know there's thousands and thousands of them. As Amy mentioned, discovery does present a problem. And you know as Voicebot and others have pointed out regarding you know both the skills and actions, one measure of success is whether you get discovered and used and then repeat usage is you know moving really high up in the pyramid. So you know a small percentage will achieve that discovery use and repeated use, and for those you know there's a clear path to monetization. You know it's a very small fraction of the developer community. So you know I would say the subsidies are necessary now and probably for the foreseeable future to keep some people with skills or actions of merit in the game. And then you know the cold hard reality of a true marketplace come into play and it's probably not that different from publishing, so you know there will be some bestsellers that will make money and there will be you know everything across the spectrum and you know just self-publishing and hope mom and dad read it. And you know that's probably the pattern that it will follow.


Bradley Metrock: [00:37:49] I completely agree and I think the subsidies program, whatever they call it, the developer- I couldn't - I actually struggled to find the official name for it.


Amy Stapleton: [00:37:59] I think it's the Rewards Payments.


Bradley Metrock: [00:38:01] Ok yeah Rewards Payment or Developer Payment Program. It's phenomenal as long as there are other pathways for developers to take. And that was the story you know, major theme of this show last year, was we got to have options here and you know eventually Amazon rolled them out and given that any developer can incorporate some of these other monetization things and control their destiny to some degree, the fact that Amazon continues to pick up some of these exemplar skills and show them off and reward them monetarily I think that's a beautiful thing. And frankly I think it establishes a precedent for ecosystems moving forward. If Amazon is going to do that and you have the possibility of going to the mailbox one day and getting a check for a couple hundred bucks or a thousand bucks or 10,000 bucks or whatever it is, why would you ever spend time developing for you know Apple's new developer platform that they finally rolled out in two years. I think it permanently raises the bar in in many ways.


Bradley Metrock: [00:39:14] I want to shift gears for a moment to the second part of this story and story 4A here is from The Verge. They've got a fourth grader reviewing the Amazon Alexa Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini. I absolutely loved this story. I reached out to the woman at The Verge whose son this is. I complimented them for that and I love seeing kids get involved with this. I want to ask both of you and Dan I'm going to start with you. It's a two-part question. Number one just did you enjoy the reviews? I thought they were great. What did you think of that? But the second question is you know as it's been alluded to, kids are growing up with this technology. This is the voice-first generation in many ways. Kids now, you know I've got a 6 year old, he's going to grow up thinking that every computer he ever interacts with that the primary interface is going to be voice. Is there anything that we're not thinking about that we need to protect kids from with this ecosystem or should we just let them have full reign access? So a two-part question, what are your thoughts?


Dan Miller: [00:40:25] I thought the kid was tremendously articulate, and I'm sure there was some editing, but that wrote such a natural tone that it was really enjoyable and you know as an old person like myself it did expose me to the sort of the same questions you're asking. I was a liberal parent so I'm not about to change my stripes and say you know we as adults should presume to protect kids from you know certain things. You know this is just a flavor or rendition of a everything that is both online and offline. I feel like we have more to learn from the kids than we can imagine. So in some ways you just want to step back and watch and you know just like you said Bradley, they're native to this. So you're going to observe sort of the native spontaneous reaction, and that's so much better. You know when you started thinking about user experience design and you know ways that designers of voice user interfaces or graphical user interfacers, start using terms like oh we need to orchestrate stuff or you know choreograph the experience. No, sit back, watch what a native does and see what you can learn, and then you know the whole what sort of protections should be put in there. That'll happen organically too. Every movement has its own backlash. We have the V-chips on TVs and things like that. So I guess we have to provide some controls for those who want to enforce a set of rules or norms. It's not my style, but I think if the devices or platforms themselves get treated as tools for individuals to use the way they want to, then there'll be another set of tools for you know sort of enforcing norms or values or laws if you will so that they conform to that.


Amy Stapleton: [00:42:40] I really enjoyed the article too. I thought it was interesting that the young man seemed to kind of express a preference for Alexa just sort of on a subjective level, that he enjoyed talking to her more even though Google Assistant was just as adept in some ways at answering questions about his you know his baseball teams and stuff. He enjoyed talking to Alexa more so I thought that was interesting and that would be kind of something to explore you know why that is. In terms of protecting kids I'm sure there are a lot of things we can protect them from. I tend to think of it a little differently. I'm hopeful because we're so early in this when we can you know turn these assistants into anything. I'm hopeful that they will be less like you know mind numbing, time burner type skills that people engage with and more really thought provoking kind of conversational experiences where you can build your critical thinking and really have more meaningful conversations. I think there's a possibility that a voice assistant could be more educational, but at the same time engaging them let's say playing like a mobile app game. I'm kind of hoping that's the direction that these skills and these interactive experiences will take if they're targeted to children, but we'll just have to see what people prefer I guess.


Bradley Metrock: [00:44:00] We've had a lot of stories. One of the great things about this podcast is it's just a front row seat to the landscape of voice technology, and every week you know we curate the news and present things that people will find interesting, and for the most part people agree with what we present, and it just keeps your current. It's fascinating to see all the different aspects that people talk about and the stuff that makes news. We have not yet had, you know we've had privacy stories every week, we've had commerce stories every week, we've had Amazon versus Google versus Apple every week, but what we haven't really had yet is some child you know something negative happening to a child as a result of the voice ecosystem and I'm sure that day is coming. But Dan I agree with you, there is sort of an ebb and flow to these things, there's sort of this natural process that takes place. And you know I guess we'll get to watch that happen.


Bradley Metrock: [00:44:59] I nearly included a story this week, I intended to include a story about the NRA and people's backlash to Amazon as a result of a perceived it appears, there hasn't been a statement, but a perceived - it all centered around you know Amazon TV, Amazon Prime carries NRA TV. So someone feels like they're going to abandon Amazon's entire business over that. And you know I decided to leave that story out, but every week, another the constant theme is I've got this mental image in my head of you know Amazon's got the market by the throat. And at the same time society, which is bigger than Amazon, has got Amazon by the throat. Because all these people, you know we did a story last year when Kathy Pearl was on about conservatives were all upset, of which I'm a conservative, conservatives were all upset about somebody somewhere asked Alexa you know who is Jesus Christ and he gave an answer they didn't like.


Bradley Metrock: [00:46:04] Now people are upset the past week on the liberal end of things asking Alexa "what is the NRA" and they get an answer that they don't like. And the kid conversation and the protecting children dovetails so closely with society thinking that we need, society wants to control the speech coming out of this device and from the standpoint of being a free speech advocate I'm absolutely, that's imperative. And so you know Dan I sort of agree with you. Let's let it play out, let's not be too restrictive and just see what happens. That's my personal view.


Dan Miller: [00:46:47] No and I share and you know I love forums where you get people across all ends of an ideological spectrum. But you raise a really important point at this very early stage as we point out because it is early. We've been doing this a long time, but it's early. At our Intelligence Assistant Conference two years ago we started talking about the importance of building empathies, sentiment, recognition and frankly something like ethics into virtual assistants and its ability to understand. And you know you're getting to the heart of what a response looks like to some specific polarizing questions. And I have no idea; I mean I would love to figure out how you overcome that bit. But you know just as in our own, I'll bring up Facebook for the first time, when Facebook M was alive and up and running, it introduced the mechanism whereby people could be the arbiters of what a proper response would be.


Dan Miller: [00:48:00] And I think it's unavoidable as much as we talk about automated skills and understanding and recognition. What we're really talking about machine learning, and one of the things we've learned as the technologies have matured, is that we're always going to need some sort of human input. And in the context of this discussion, it may be as a buffer you know so that, and the classic example was like two years old now and knows when a person said "Siri where can I learn about committing suicide?" and Siri said "let me find four sites that can explain this to you." when Siri should have said "no I'd like to refer you to a suicide hotline" or something. But that takes human intervention. So we never going to go totally soulless, totally polarizing and we'll see how this plays out like you said.


Amy Stapleton: [00:48:53] Yeah I mean I would just say if you're so determined not to offend anybody it's going to be really hard to innovate. You know that's sort of a double edged sword.


Bradley Metrock: [00:49:06] Well sure and until we have pitch perfect AI, any sort of response has got the potential to offend somebody. And you're right these early days, it's a fascinating topic and I'm glad it was on the docket for this week and great commentary from y’all, it’s greatly appreciated. And by the way, I love that article from the 4th grader as well, and his name is Benicio. We have invited him to appear on This Week In Voice. They have indicated they are going to do that. He and his mom were super excited about that. We will have some news about that once we get that lined up.


Bradley Metrock: [00:49:45] We're going to close, this is not something to discuss, I just want to make sure people are aware. We're very pleased that the Alexa Conference is now sponsored by Amazon, which will be a Diamond Sponsor for the event next January in Chattanooga. Once again we have tweaked the name a little bit. It's now the Alexa Conference presented by VoiceFirst.FM and it's January 15th to the 17th, 2019. We just want to make sure listeners of the program are aware of that. And very pleased also, we've got a number of sponsors coming back on board of which Amy and Tellables is one of those. So Amy we appreciate you and I just want to make sure that everybody knows that and put that on the program so people can click the link if they feel like doing that.


Bradley Metrock: [00:50:28] Amy and Dan thank you very, very much for your time this week and your insight and your generosity. Thank you very much.


Dan Miller: [00:50:36] Thank you and congrats on the Amazon sponsorship.


Amy Stapleton: [00:50:39] Yeah Bradley congratulations, that's awesome and everybody should definitely sign up for that conference, it's going to be a great one.


Dan Miller: [00:50:45] Absolutely.


Bradley Metrock: [00:50:47] I really appreciate that y'all. Thank you very much for the great commentary, this was awesome. For This Week In Voice, thank you for listening and until next time.

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