Voice Command Tech: Are humans listening to your Assistant Voice Conversations?

Voice assistants are changing how we interface with, and relate to the technology. On a base level, they provide an interface with technology allowing control at range, but on a human level the ability to communicate and interface with a product naturally forges a bond in a way that is difficult with other products. Having a literal voice personifies a product in a way that gives them character and makes them relatable. 

All of this revolution went mainstream on October 12, 2011; 7 years ago when “Siri” was released on the iPhone. Siri was the first mass-market voice assistant and started turning the gears towards a slow but steady mass adoption of voice assistants. Now whilst Siri was the first voice assistant for mobile phones it is far from the only. We now have Androids Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, Samsung Bixby and many others. 

A new entrant to the world of mobile OS is Huawei who just last month released an entirely new, cross-platform OS called Hongmeng or Harmony OS in its international form. Harmony OS is an open-source multi-device OS based on Linux that is open-source. Multi-platform. That’s right multi-platform. The same OS can power mobiles, computers, smartwatches, smart devices, cars, TV’s, VR smart glasses, wearables, smart displays and more. Using Micro-kernel based distributed OS it can be used to run almost any device (In computer science, a microkernel (often abbreviated as μ-kernel) is the near-minimum amount of software that can provide the mechanisms needed to implement an operating system (OS). These mechanisms include low-level address space management, thread management, and inter-process communication (IPC)). More importantly, it can run Android Apps natively. So it’s already compatible with the Play stores immense library of apps, and most importantly companies who want to launch apps on Harmony OS don’t need to learn a new development language or even release their apps on a new store. It means that developers markets just grew without any additional cost or complexity. 

With the growing trade wars tensions, it’s hardly surprising that Huawei has made steps to further distance themselves from US-based Google, and the Google Android OS. With Huawei hardware having been temporarily banned from sale in the US I can imagine this has forced them to move up their timeline for delivering the OS. On this note though, I would be interested in seeing how secure the Harmony OS is once serious security companies get hold of the hardware and can verify it’s end-user security. Huawei states in their press launch that it has inbuilt security but with China’s national security laws being as strict as they are Huawei would be legally required to hand over any data they have on anyone using Huawei’s devices. The law being what it is Huawei wouldn’t have any way to ignore or not comply. The risk being any device running Harmony OS puts any user – no matter their geographic territory or location – would be subject to Chinese authoritarianism. Not an issue for many but for some could be encouragement enough to avoid it. 

With a new OS though means Huawei will be coming into the fray of voice assistants. They have some stiff competition, however, with all other platforms now touting very competent voice assistants that are mature and have strong user bases. Without a doubt though, the supreme winner of the Voice Assistant market is Google Assistant. A recent test by Loup Ventures ruled Google Assistant as the most competent on the market. The research-driven venture capital firm asked Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), Alexa (Amazon), and Google Assistant the same 800 questions each. Questions included things like “Can you order me more paper towels?” and “Where is the nearest coffee shop?”. The assistants were graded on two metrics:

  1. Did it understand what was being asked?
  2. Did it deliver a correct response?

“Google Assistant continued its outperformance, answering 86% correctly and understanding all 800 questions,” Loup Ventures Gene Munster and Will Thompson wrote in a blog post. “Siri was close behind, correctly answering 79% and only misunderstanding 11 questions. Alexa correctly answered 61% and misunderstood 13. Cortana was the laggard, Cortana correctly answering 52% and misunderstanding 19.”

This may not be surprising to many as Google is known to heavily mine it’s vast store of data and applies machine learning to iteratively create the best voice assistant on the market. This does come at the cost of privacy as Google recently admitted in a blog post that Google Assistant recordings are listened to by humans. Apple, on the other hand, have the strongest security pledge of any company on the market. They don’t mine your data, they don’t listen to your Siri recordings and they don’t apply any machine learning to your private data. That’s the cost of supremacy I guess but what’s remarkable is that Siri is only 7% behind Google assistant. Now maybe that 7% really is only attainable by mining your private data but for Apple to achieve such an effective voice assistant and maintain end-user security, and privacy, I think is something that shouldn’t go unrecognised. 

One thing is undeniable, voice assistants have revolutionised phone accessibility to the blind and disabled communities. Now if you have never seen a blind person using an iPhone I really recommend you take the time to watch this video of Carl de Campos, from George South Africa, a totally blind man showing how he uses his iPhone

So even if it’s just giving users more Autonomy and increasing accessibility we here at Detekt will always applaud a company for bringing anyone who is disadvantaged or disabled along with advances in technology. Detekt has worked to develop many accessible products and as Voice assistant technology earns it’s rank of Excellence we hope to rise with it. If you would like to implement voice assistance in your next product then give us a call today and see how we can help you to develop your next great product idea.