Voice Assistants and Other New Tech at the Consumer Electronics Show 2018


Jonathan Rodriguez

Gene Lam, ’18, is an advocate for home assistant products.

A talking robotic dog, an Ultra-HD VR headset with full room tracking capabilities, and a TV that functions as part of your wall were some of the exciting futuristic gadgets revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show 2018 at Las Vegas in January. Every year, tech companies participate in this annual showcase to create excitement for their upcoming products. Often, it serves as an early battleground for flagship devices of the year.

“If you ask it something but it doesn’t understand, it’ll say ‘Sorry, I didn’t understand that. But I’m learning,’ and that terrifies me,” said Arora.

Google and Amazon came head to head in this year’s new craze: the voice assistant. The already booming market is set to continue to explode in 2018 as brands scramble to integrate their apps with Amazon’s Alexa and/or Google’s Home products. Google historically lacked a public presence at CES, so its heavy push on voice assistants may be Google’s primary focus for the foreseeable future. Google plastered itself across Las Vegas’ billboard advertising space, making it impossible for spectators to have stepped foot in the city during CES without having seen a Google advertisement. Google’s space at CES mirrored their intentions for the year: interconnectedness.  Seamless interaction was the goal. A voice command to a speaker in your room will soon be able to control the rest of your house.

Amazon is the current market leader in the home assistant craze, having found success with their line of Alexa products. At CES, Amazon used a similar approach to Google, heavily promoting device integration with Alexa. A larger variety of Alexa-enabled products is good for consumer choice and further expands the integration of voice assistants.

Prachi Arora ’18 finds the Google Home very interesting but remains wary of how smart it is. “If you ask it something but it doesn’t understand, it’ll say ‘Sorry, I didn’t understand that. But I’m learning,’ and that terrifies me.” said Arora. Her concerns are similar to that of many who are critical of the always-on, always-listening voice assistant phenomenon. They are worried by the possibility of the voice assistant passively collecting data as by function they are left powered on in the home.

After the NSA scandal, their criticism of such a big-brother-esque device are understandable. “I feel uneasy when I’m having conversations in front of my Alexa device. I feel like what I say might be being recorded which is unsettling,” said Paul Shaffino ’18.