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What Is a Voice Assistant?

These days, Voice Assistants are all the rage. Amazon, Apple, and Google all have thrown seperate versions into the ring to duke it out in the Smart Home space. But beyond hearing the hype from the world’s largest tech giants, have you ever wondered what really is a Voice Assistant? And do Voice Assistants live in devices like Smart Speakers? 

Like all technology, it’s easy to make Voice Assistants sound complicated. But when you spend a few minutes boiling it down, it’s not so complicated at all. In my years as an engineer at both Amazon and Apple, I’ve found that Voice Assistants aren’t really that complicated. Having an understanding of what Voice Assistants are and are not will go a long way, as well as learning the overall advantages of using this technology. 

Defining a Voice Assistant

A Voice Assistant is a computer system that attempts to understand your voice, answer your question or command, and confirm the action you wanted is done.  

Your Voice Assistant doesn’t live on your Smart Speaker.

Voice Assistants live in the cloud. These days, Voice Assistants require a lot of power to understand your speech and perform the action you requested. So it’s tough to put a Voice Assistant on a small device, like on a Smart Speaker or a Smartphone. Instead, Voice Assistants live in the cloud where there’s lots of room for computing power.

A Smart Speaker connects to a Voice Assistant.

A Smart Speaker is the physical device with a microphone, speaker, and a connection to a Voice Assistant via the internet. All the hardware that a Voice Assistant needs. 

But if this distinction is still feeling a bit murky, a visual example might help better. Check out the below diagram of what a simple Voice Assistant looks like behind the curtain.

Voice Assistant Cloud and Speaker Communication

The first thing to note in this diagram is the Smart Speaker itself, which is a device that you can use to engage with a Voice Assistant. In this example, you specifically see an Echo Dot. An Echo Dot is not Alexa, but rather a Smart Speaker that contains a microphone and a speaker so that Alexa can engage with you. Alexa is the brain behind the Echo Dot and other Alexa-enabled devices. This Echo Dot connects to the internet where it finds Alexa.

The cloud is where the Voice Assistant’s brain truly lives. So in this case, Alexa doesn’t live in the Echo Dot, but rather, Alexa lives in the cloud. In the cloud, your voice is first converted into something computers can understand, and then an action is taken based on what the cloud thinks you said.

 For example, if you gave Alexa the command, “Alexa, what time is it,” the cloud will look up the time in your timezone and send the information back to you via an Alexa response. If you say, “Alexa, turn on the lights,” the cloud finds the lights you want in your Smart Home and sends the Smart Light device itself a command to turn on. Then, the cloud confirms the action is done via an Alexa response. 

So now that you have a general idea of what a Voice Assistant is and how it works, let’s talk about what you really want to know: what can you do with a Voice Assistant?  While I hinted at a few examples above, this is really just the tip of the iceberg of what Alexa and other Voice Assistants can do for you. 

Advantages of a Voice Assistant 

Voice Assistants—with the help of Smart Speakers and other smart devices—can help you do all sorts of things. Here are a few examples of what you can do with a Voice Assistant:

  1. Stream music based on any song name, artist, or mood you provide 
  2. Answer your questions by finding information and content from the internet 
  3. Serve as an alarm clock in your bedroom or a timer in your kitchen 
  4. Timers in the kitchen
  5. Read you excerpts, play audiobook stories, or even suggest podcasts to listen to 
  6. Suggest new cooking recipes to try based on what you have in your fridge 
  7. Tell you funny jokes, offer daily factoids, play games, and even sing songs to your children 
  8. Make calls and send text messages to your contacts, like with Siri phone commands
  9. Control smart devices in your smart home, like with setting your lights to atomic tangerine
  10. And more, with new features added all the time like Alexa Skills

Beyond this list, there are many more uses for Voice Assistants that offer daily value and convenience to your life. But do you want to know my favorite thing a Voice Assistant does? Saving my piece of mind. 

A Voice Assistant not letting me forget to lock my door at night or turn off the lights has been amazing for saving my head space.  How Voice Assistants integrate with a Smart Home is what really gets me excited, and this connection is only getting better with time.  

Looking to learn more about Voice Assistants? Check out the Alexa section or Siri section for news and voice command options. 

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