The Unspoken Truth About Voice-Controlled Smart Assistants

What’s Behind The Voice-Controlled Smart Assistant? Should You Be Worried?

You may have noticed that smart home assistants of all different kinds are starting to pop up left and right. They are becoming more common in homes and workplaces around the world.  The number of smart systems available is nearly eclipsed by the number of ways to control them. Depending on the system they can be controlled with either a remote, or a handheld device, such as your phone or tab. The choice is dizzying. 

There is a danger of ending up with a slew of remote controls and other gadgetry that can control all the smart devices and appliances in your home. But what if there’s an easier solution?  Well, there is!  Voice control for smart home systems means that you have full central control over everything. This means that if you are looking at making your home smart, the choice to install a voice-controlled smart assistant is a simple one. Having an aid that you speak to, in order to get things done around the house, makes your life easier as there are no remotes to search for or buttons to push.  You don’t even have to get off your couch if you can find a voice-controlled smart assistant to make and deliver you food!

What Really Happens When You Ask Alexa To Turn On A Light

Of course, the kind of assistant you want depends a lot on what you want to do with it. If you want to talk to a smart speaker that can control your home appliances, or tells you when the next train is leaving, then you can get any generic Internet-connected smart assistant out there.

Smart Assistants Devices

However, just take a minute to sit back and think about what happens when you ask Alexa to tell you a joke or to turn on the lights.

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First, you speak to Alexa to tell it to turn on your light. That information is recorded by Alexa, which is about all the device can do, aside from some Darlek-like light blinking capabilities. It’s not as smart as it seems! Alexa records what you have said, then uses the Internet to send this recording to a speech recognition software based in the cloud called Alexa Voice Service (AVS), which can be located anywhere in the world. 

Smart Assistants Privacy

Once your command to turn on the light is there, what you have said is turned into text and decoded by the service. A copy of it is made and placed into indefinite storage, which, incidentally, also means whatever you said to Alexa can be used in the future. What you say at home is no longer private. Instead, it is analyzed by a large company that is delighted to use you as its data-collecting product to sell more things to more people (including you).

But, let’s get back to your command to turn on the light.  At this moment, after traveling all over the place, what you said still hasn’t fixed the situation. Now’s the time for the next step. The AVS analyses which words are being used in the command and what the user wants to do. Are your lights turned on now?  No, just wait a little more.

The Real Cost Of Smart Speakers

After the service has worked out that the command is about the light operation, it sends the data on to yet another service that deals with automatic light manipulation skills, based somewhere else in the world.  Finally, the result saying that the light needs to turn on is sent back to your smart light. Just like that, it turns on!

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Of course, in our measurement of passing time, all this data movement and analysis happens incredibly quickly, but it is incredible to think of what has happened behind the scenes to make one command work. Even more shocking is all that energy that has been used just to get the device to do something simple.

Did you know that using online smart assistants for a year produces the same amount of CO2 as it does to drive 100km in a petrol-run car? Sure, on the big scale of things that don’t seem to be too much pollutant being pumped into the atmosphere by one person, but think of the millions of people around the world who use Internet-connected voice assistants daily. Suddenly, that statistic becomes very important after it is multiplied by a million or so.

Smart Assistant – How Can We Maximize Using It?

This poses a knotty problem for those who want the benefits of having a smart assistant but are concerned about the environment and our impact on our rapidly warming planet. It also creates an issue for those who are worried about keeping their lives private from large faceless corporations.  After all, you can’t just have your piece of the pie, or can you?

A small European company called ProKNX has been mulling over these ethical and moral problems for quite some time and has come up with a solution to satisfy our desire for an intelligent home without feeling guilty. ProKNX has developed an affordable voice-controlled smart assistant that works completely offline. The analysis of what you say goes on inside the device itself. This means that the whole crazy process used by Internet-connected assistants, such as Alexa or Google Home, of sending everything to a server far, far away to switch on the lights is no longer necessary. 

Smart Assistants ProKNX

And for those of us who fret about our speech being recorded, ProKNX’s smart-home assistant doesn’t do that. The device records nothing at all. It hears what you say and locally does the job you need to be done. You can talk to it to make any smart appliance work, such as lights, blinds, heating, music, and even your TV.

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The only thing it doesn’t do is tell you bad jokes, or help you win a board game by coming up with the answer to some trivial knowledge question. That’s a small price to pay for doing your bit to save the Earth, and keeping what you say at home where it should be.

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