23/11/2017 11:24 GMT | Updated 23/11/2017 11:24 GMT

Digital Assistants – Giving Life To Artificial Intelligence

In a relatively short space of time, the digital assistant market has boomed. Six years ago Apple’s Siri went global with the launch of the iPhone 4S, offering a novelty alternative to the not-so-difficult task of manually calling someone.

These are far more complex today, with digital home assistants offering to make lives easier for customers worldwide. We are now experiencing a duopoly in this market, with stiff competition fought between Google and Amazon, with both brands offering both budget and premium options and therefore making AI more accessible than ever.

Introducing Alexa

The Amazon Echo launched in 2014 and was the first digital home assistant available to the mass market. It currently costs £89.99, while its compact sibling, the Echo Dot, will set you back £49.99 and the more premium Echo Plus comes in at £139.99.

All three devices are operated by Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant Alexa, which allows customers to order anything from a TV through the Amazon app to a taxi via Uber, all through the power of AI.

The Amazon Echo Show is the latest addition to this AI family. Featuring all of the Echo’s existing perks, the Echo Show also boasts a seven inch touchscreen and a front-facing camera. From the outset, Amazon have marketed the Echo Show as a device that will make your home life smarter with a variety of features designed to turn your home into a machine. From playing music and video-calling to locking your front door and dimming the lights, Alexa has never been more efficient.


The Google opposition

Google entered the digital home assistant market much later than Amazon, launching Google Home over a year after the Amazon Echo landed. Google Home offers its users a fully connected Google experience linking Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps and more. Coming in at £129, the Google Home is significantly pricier than the standard Amazon Echo but slightly cheaper than the Echo Plus.

For those wanting to get their hands on Google Assistant technology without the hefty price tag, the Google Home Mini comes in at only £49. The compact digital assistant boasts similar command features, albeit with reduced sound quality and microphone reach. Unlike Alexa, Google Assistant is not only responsive to commands, but is also predictive and can anticipate follow-up questions, prior to them being asked.

Apple challenges the market

Six years on and Apple are finally ready to enter the digital home assistant race. With the ability to analyse the acoustics of the room, the Apple HomePod is designed to give you an audio experience that is immersive and tailored to you and your home. Set for a December release and priced at $349 in the United States, the HomePod will sit firmly at the upper end of the digital home assistant market.

In a savvy move to encourage additional purchases, Apple have recommended that users pair the device with another HomePod via Airplay 2 in order to maximise sound efficiency. The built-in technology allows the device to detect other HomePod assistants in the vicinity, balancing the audio quality and projecting the music around the room or around your house.

Protecting your privacy

The decision to invite a complex AI personality into your home should be taken with a touch of caution, as such technology could pose a potential threat to your privacy in the long-run. With security breaches and large-scale hacks making regular news headlines, we must consider our privacy when leaving our details in the hands of digital assistants - particularly as these are now becoming more sophisticated and beginning to feature cameras and more sensitive microphones.

These technologies will only develop further in 2018 and it will be interesting to see how the market changes once the Apple HomePod launches. It’s not so much a question of ‘if’ digital assistants will advance beyond their current form but more a question of ‘when?’, and so we must continue to question the details we share and how this information is stored.