Voice powered technologies aren’t new, but they are certainly evolving and becoming more mainstream.

In the eighties, 8-bit computer enthusiasts enjoyed the use of early speech synthesis such as SAM (Software Automatic Mouth) on the Commodore 64.  It was cool – but the computer basically spoke what you typed; it lacked artificial intelligence.  At the time, we all wanted it to be as it was in the 1983 film WarGames - a computer asking us through speech, “Shall we play a game?”  Sure, there was some typing involved, but Hollywood helped us imagine the possibilities.

Fast-forward to a time when everything is connected and the user interface and experience continues to move forward – to voice.  For example, we have had Google for some time now, but why type to simply ask a question.  Enter technologies such as Apple’s Siri, Google Voice Search (“OK Google”), Bing Torque, S Voice, and many more.  With this power in our hands, we can verbally issue a command to a mobile device or a desktop browser (“OK Google” in Chrome for example) and verbally get an (almost) accurate and useful response.  While it does need to mature, it’s great.  We can dial phone numbers, find restaurants, play media, ask silly questions, and more - all while hands free.

So what comes next?  Amazon seems to have an answer.  The online retail giant has just made its solution available to the masses with its Echo product.  It’s a physically simple device, a modest cylinder of internal speakers and microphones usually described in comparison to a “Pringles can” in size. Unlike the other mentioned technologies, which are software based and may run on various devices, the Echo is a piece of hardware designed by Amazon that runs on Amazon Web Services.  It is an always connected device at the ready.  Sort of like having a permanent robot assistant on your desk or living room, just awaiting for your request.  Simply connect it to your wireless network, and at your command you’ll receive sports scores, headline news, weather, play media, and information and answers to questions.  Of course there’s a bit of fun to be had too.  If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember a previous newsletter article “Is Google The Computer From Star Trek?” – go ahead and ask Echo for some tea…Earl Grey…hot.