Entertainment

Sonos will launch a privacy-focused voice assistant next month

The company’s new music-focused assistant doesn’t upload any audio recordings to the cloud.

Sonos speaker

Sonos Voice Control will be available on the company’s speakers in the U.S. at the beginning of next month.

Photo: Sonos

Sonos is getting ready to take on Alexa and Google Assistant: The company announced its very own voice assistant Wednesday. Sonos Voice Control will be available on the company’s speakers in the U.S. at the beginning of next month, with plans to launch in France later this year.

Unlike general purpose voice assistants, Sonos Voice Control will be primarily focused on music search and playback, as well as control of Sonos speaker systems. The assistant also differs from Alexa and Google Assistant in that it never uploads any audio to the cloud, but instead processes everything on the device.

That’s key to winning over people who have thus far steered clear of voice assistants, said Sonos senior sound experience manager Greg McAllister. Sonos began making speakers with built-in microphones for voice control in 2017, giving people the choice to either use Alexa or the Google Assistant through those smart speakers.

However, almost half of the voice-capable Sonos speakers it sold aren’t being used for that purpose, according to McAllister. “Time and time again, when we speak to our customers, they express that they have concerns over privacy,” he recently told Protocol.

Sonos got its hands on the technology necessary to build a voice assistant that processes queries locally when it acquired Paris-based Snips in late 2019. To finalize its assistant for the U.S. market, the company teamed up with actor Giancarlo Esposito of “Breaking Bad” fame. The company plans to make additional voice choices available at a later time.

With the launch of its own voice assistant, Sonos is also putting a new spotlight on interoperability issues that have long plagued the industry. At launch, consumers will be able to run Alexa and the Sonos assistant on the same device and invoke them with a specific wake word. However, Google has long resisted this kind of voice interoperability, so people won’t be able to use Sonos Voice Control and the Google Assistant on the same speaker.

At the same time, Sonos also has to stay clear of playing favorites with voice commands, especially since the company is also running its own music services. To do so, Sonos is asking people to set their favorite music service in its app; if none is set, it will default to the most-used service, and consider other services as fallback options.

That’s especially noteworthy because Sonos Voice Control won’t work with every service at launch: The voice assistant is capable of sending queries to Sonos Radio, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer and Pandora, but isn’t working with Spotify just yet.

“We are working towards having them part of Sonos Voice Control,” promised Sonos voice experience director David Leroy, without providing additional details.

Climate

This carbon capture startup wants to clean up the worst polluters

The founder and CEO of point-source carbon capture company Carbon Clean discusses what the startup has learned, the future of carbon capture technology, as well as the role of companies like his in battling the climate crisis.

Carbon Clean CEO Aniruddha Sharma told Protocol that fossil fuels are necessary, at least in the near term, to lift the living standards of those who don’t have access to cars and electricity.

Photo: Carbon Clean

Carbon capture and storage has taken on increasing importance as companies with stubborn emissions look for new ways to meet their net zero goals. For hard-to-abate industries like cement and steel production, it’s one of the few options that exist to help them get there.

Yet it’s proven incredibly challenging to scale the technology, which captures carbon pollution at the source. U.K.-based company Carbon Clean is leading the charge to bring down costs. This year, it raised a $150 million series C round, which the startup said is the largest-ever funding round for a point-source carbon capture company.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Workplace

Why companies cut staff after raising millions

Are tech firms blowing millions in funding just weeks after getting it? Experts say it's more complicated than that.

Bolt, Trade Republic, HomeLight, and Stord all drew attention from funding announcements that happened just weeks or days before layoffs.

Photo: Pulp Photography/Getty Images

Fintech startup Bolt was one of the first tech companies to slash jobs, cutting 250 employees, or a third of its staff, in May. For some workers, the pain of layoffs was a shock not only because they were the first, but also because the cuts came just four months after Bolt had announced a $355 million series E funding round and achieved a peak valuation of $11 billion.

“Bolt employees were blind sided because the CEO was saying just weeks ago how everything is fine,” an anonymous user wrote on the message board Blind. “It has been an extremely rough day for 1/3 of Bolt employees,” another user posted. “Sadly, I was one of them who was let go after getting a pay-raise just a couple of weeks ago.”

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Climate

The fight to define the carbon offset market's future

The world’s largest carbon offset issuer is fighting a voluntary effort to standardize the industry. And the fate of the climate could hang in the balance.

It has become increasingly clear that scaling the credit market will first require clear standards and transparency.

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

There’s a major fight brewing over what kind of standards will govern the carbon offset market.

A group of independent experts looking to clean up the market’s checkered record and the biggest carbon credit issuer on the voluntary market is trying to influence efforts to define what counts as a quality credit. The outcome could make or break an industry increasingly central to tech companies meeting their net zero goals.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Policy

White House AI Bill of Rights lacks specific guidance for AI rules

The document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is long on tech guidance, but short on restrictions for AI.

While the document provides extensive suggestions for how to incorporate AI rights in technical design, it does not include any recommendations for restrictions on the use of controversial forms of AI.

Photo: Ana Lanza/Unsplash

It was a year in the making, but people eagerly anticipating the White House Bill of Rights for AI will have to continue waiting for concrete recommendations for future AI policy or restrictions.

Instead, the document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is legally non-binding and intended to be used as a handbook and a “guide for society” that could someday inform government AI legislation or regulations.

Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights features a list of five guidelines for protecting people in relation to AI use:

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins