PLUGGED IN: The Internet of Things is forming part of every aspect of our lives, and becoming smarter.Picture: pixabay

Marchelle Abrahams looks at the good, the bad and the ugly side of digital personal assistants.

Apple's Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are leading the pack in next-generation digital personal assistants. They’ve gone beyond expectations in the AI world and are organising our lives to such a degree that, without them, we’d be forgetting important appointments, our dry cleaning and our wedding anniversaries.

And it’s not just our phones and smart home devices - ATMs and banking apps are also becoming more personalised.

Digital assistants are evolving at such a rate that they’re echoing sci-fi movies like Minority Report and Blade Runner.

A recent study showed that digital assistants were improving year-on-year.

Massachusetts Stone Temple updated its 2017 study comparing popular digital assistants. Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s Siri went head-to-head in an intelligence test.

The results didn’t differ much from the previous year, but what it did find was that each competing assistant made significant strides in closing the gap with Google’s Assistant, which maintains its No 1 spot.

An Amazon Echo device had recorded a couple’s entire conversation and then shared it with one of the husband’s employees. Picture: Pixabay

Hello Zoe

MSC is using the next generation technology to “create a connected cruise experience”.

The privately owned cruise company revealed the industry-first digital personal assistant will be named Zoe.

The bespoke device, set to be launched on the MSC Bellissima, is designed specifically for use in the cabins on board and will be available in seven languages. The primary objective of this digital service is to provide guests with a simple and stress-free way to find out information that traditionally is asked at the Guest Relations desk.

“Zoe is a family name as well as being a name that is internationally recognised and easy to pronounce no matter what language a guest speaks. Choosing a family name was a way to combine tradition with our continued focus on innovation,” commented MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato.

Sorry, wrong number!

We rely on technology to such a degree that it would hard envisioning life without a smartphone just for one day. So what happens when technology goes rogue?

In May this year, The New York Times reported that an Amazon Echo device had recorded a couple’s entire conversation and then shared it with one of the husband’s employees.

Privacy advocates were quick to point fingers, warning that it was only a matter of time till AI turned on us.

Imagine John Legend’s voice waking you up every morning. Picture: Reuters

Quite the contrary, said Amazon, after releasing an official statement: “Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa’.

“Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, ‘[contact name], right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right’. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

The future is male?

Eve wondered why the default voice on Siri or any other virtual assistant is female? A female voice is supportive, trustworthy and most importantly, reliable - just like a woman. 

“We tested many voices with our internal beta program and customers before launching and this voice tested best,” an Amazon spokesperson told PCMag.

When it came to creating Cortana, Microsoft said it "thought long and hard about gender.”

"We did extensive research and found there is a certain warmth to a female voice that is associated with helpfulness”.

Google has now gone against the grain and will soon introduce six voice options on its Google Assistant, one of them being the smooth, soulful voice of John Legend.

According to CEO Sundar Pichai, Legend’s voice will be called upon during “certain contexts.”