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Everything is a virtual assistant now

Mike Elgan | Jan. 9, 2017
At CES, we're learning that virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa will be delivered as a utility to almost every appliance in your home.

Who knows?

Regardless, Amazon and Google will get virtual assistants into just about every category of internet of things device. You'll talk to the fridge. You'll talk to the toaster. You'll talk to the toilet. Everything will be listening. Everything will know you, guide you, inform you, entertain you and do things for you.

As everything continues moving to the cloud, our virtual assistants will become our main interface to the cloud -- which is to say our main interface to everything.

As Star Trekish and awesome as this will be, you can be sure that new problems will arise.

Alexa-powered devices, such as Amazon's own Echo appliance, are always listening for a "wake word" -- the word that triggers the device to listen for other commands and requests. Alexa's "wake word" is "Alexa," or alternatively "Amazon." (This is a bummer for one Reddit user, who claims that he has two daughters named "Alexa" and "Amazon."). Virtual assistants will end the use of "Alexa" or "Siri" as names for children or pets.

The assistants everywhere world will raise new issues around privacy and security. They'll even challenge the necessity of knowledge itself, or at least trivial knowledge. After all, if every fact is instantly accessible with a question, what's the point of committing any fact to memory?

The new world of ubiquitous virtual assistants has been creeping up on us for a decade. But CES this week was a turning point. It's clear we enter that world this year, in 2017.

Will you remember when it happened? Don't bother. All you'll have to do is ask.


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