Voice input is all the rage and it's an interesting new modality. The real question is how are we going to make any money out of it? The obvious answer is to introduce advertising, but this might not be so easy, after all. It happened!
Google Home spoke an ad and it wasn't well received.
It was only a little ad. It may not even have been an ad proper, but quite a few people thought it was and reacted. When first activated, and after giving the time and weather, Google Home said:
"By the way, Beauty and The Beast opens in theaters today. In this version, Belle is the inventor. Sounds more like it to me."
Google has claimed that it wasn't an ad and wasn't intended to be taken as an ad, but it was interpreted as such. Disney also says it didn't pay Google for it.
The reaction was mostly negative with users stating that Google Home was going to be off their future shopping lists.
We need to think about this carefully. What exactly is an ad? How can you tell the difference between news and an ad? After all, an ad is often just news about a product. Of course, the difference is that the ad is delivered to you in the hope that you will buy the product whereas news is delivered just to keep you entertained or more accurately to keep you listening or reading the source.
You might think that ads on a voice input device are not going to work but listeners to commercial radio stations accept voice ads all the time. So in principle there is no problem.
But there will be if things go according to this scenario:
Ok Google - switch the hall lights on.
Hi Dave I can't do that right now because I need to tell you about the latest special offers from the local Google add-on store to help you get the best from your day....
Is this the sort of intrusive ads that users are anticipating? It is true that Google and many others have a habit of hijacking your time. Think of the unskipable You Tube ads, but in this case we have potentially something new - AI.
The big problem with ads is that they are often unwanted and uninteresting. It isn't the tracking and information gathering that ads involve that I object to - it is the inefficient and ineffective way that this data is used. You go onto Amazon and buy some toothpaste and then you are bombarded by ads for toothpaste, but I already bought it! My wish is that ads were more, not less, targeted to my interests. Occasionally, but very rarely, I see an ad that makes me stop in my tracks and reconsider some project or other having investigated the new possibilities some product offers me.
Ads at their best are just news about products.
So now let's think about voice control devices. We seem to personalise them:
Alexa tell me a joke
and bring them into our families. We ask them the time, want them to tell us the weather forecast and trust them to control our homes. Next we will encounter social robots like Jibo and similar. Alexa skills will presumably develop into full interactive AI, with a lot of flaws at first, but still effective.
Amazon's Alexa seems better placed to take advantage of its position. Whereas Google would have to sell ads to place on Google Home to earn revenue, Amazon only has to sell things via Alexa. What this means is that Alexa could simply introduce intelligent suggestions about things you might like, spread across Amazon's vast stock range, to increase Amazon's profits.
Would you really find it so bad if:
Alexa can you look up and tell me what is on at the cinema round the corner?
Of course I can Dave but did you know that there is an excellent film on the FireTV tonight it is one you have wanted to watch for some time.
Is it an ad or is it an intelligent assistant just being helpful? You can see that the scope for blurring the lines between ads and advice is very great and our previous exchange is much more likely to go:
Alexa switch the lights on in the hall.
Of course Dave. I hope you don't mind but I notice that one of the LED lights has failed - would you like me to order some. There is a special offer on LumiSmarts at the moment.
As long as the advice is connected to what is going on and the users needs and interests, it can pass as advice and help.
If you are still thinking that this is all terrible you need to work out how voice input is going to be paid for. At the moment the cloud services behind voice input devices is being provided as a loss leader. Voice input apps don't earn revenue and this is a big disincentive to develop them.
Some payment has to be found at some point.
My best guess is that in the not to distant future users of Alexa and Home will receive a notification that they can either pay a monthly subscription or accept commercially influenced advice, aka advertising.
As long as the advertising is smart and helpful I know which one I'd opt for, but on past performance smart is not the way the advertising industry generally goes.