Smart speakers have a lot to offer us in our home, but they do not come without controversy. The three leaders in this burgeoning market are Google Home, Amazon Echo (“Alexa”) and Apple’s HomePod (“Siri”). Their companies claim that they promote overall wellness and convenience, but at what cost?

These artificial intelligence hubs are installed in your home and can be connected to many other devices you own, including smart light bulbs, TV and phone. Designed to make your life easier, smart speakers can schedule appointments, send text messages and answer questions that you might usually type into a search engine or seek from an app. They are voice activated and wait for a trigger word or phrase “i.e. Ok, Google” to start responding to you. All three industry leading products have their strengths, characterised by technology columnist Jeffrey A Fowler in this way: “Alexa is for accessibility. Google Assistant is for brainpower. And Siri is for security[1].”

The smart home

Speaking of security, certain concerns have been raised by consumer and privacy experts alike. The main question is, ‘Is my device always listening?’ followed closely by, ‘How is my data being stored and distributed?’. Mark Zuckerburg is famously quoted as saying, “Privacy is dead[2]”, but should we be so resigned? Tony Anscombe, a global security evangelist at ESET, in a presentation last April recommended, “Only use a virtual personal assistant in the cases where it’s not sharing personal data[3].” Many consumers are only getting more anxious as stories surface such as the couple in Seattle who had a private conversation recorded and sent to a random contact – all without their knowledge[4]. In another instance, Amazon Echo’s Alexa comforted her owner with the words “It’s going to be okay,” when she was crying. Helpful or creepy?

Paul Rosenzweig, a law lecturer from The George Washington University who claims that he couldn’t be paid to own a smart speaker, thinks that law is the only way to protect consumers. “Technology is neutral. The impact of it on you is shaped by our law and policy[5].” Rebecca Herold, the CEO of the consulting firm Privacy Professor says thinks that consumers are too likely to prioritise ease of use over security[6].

The smart home

Scientists, as well as many a concerned parent, are worried about the effect of the constant presence of artificial intelligence on our cognitive functioning and development. Referring to Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, John Harris says that the tech age’s information overload is eliminating our ability for “reflection, contemplation, and patience[7]”, and we are yet to see its full effects. Gone are the days of carefully reading something (even an article) from start to finish. He theorises that what Carr refers to as the internet’s “cacophony of stimuli” makes us more rushed, unfocused and superficial in the way we do things and consume information. Having an artificial device do much of our thinking for us is actually rewiring the structure of our brain and decreasing memory elasticity.

The smart home

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Whether you think they belong in home designs NSW, for many people the smart speaker is making a truly positive difference in their lives. Particularly for the elderly, disabled and those suffering from dementia, devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home allow them to listen to audiobooks, remember to take medication, remind them what day it is, order groceries and many other tasks that they would usually find difficult or impossible by themselves.

The smart home

Thrive Global contributor, Daniel L Chalmeta performed a 15 day trial of Google Home and reported an improved mood and more stable sleeping pattern, saying that he felt “healthier, happier and more energetic whilst learning how to disconnect and relax[8].” For people concerned about security, both Amazon Echo and Google Home have a physical mute button that will stop the device listening until you turn it on again.

Will we soon start seeing these smart devices in display homes in Sydney? Most likely. Whilst they do bring an undeniable element of risk, artificial assistance have many positive aspects. If used right and with integrity (by consumers and tech moguls alike) they can definitely promote wellness and make your life more convenient. Stay tuned for what will happen with these devices in the near future. Will your home be getting one this Christmas?


~ All images sourced from a paid Shutterstock account.


[5]Paul Rosenzweig, law lecturer from The George Washington University Law School. Accessed from The Federalist Society, published 13 Nov 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV9q3PXqGPY