People

Voice is having a moment in our work-from-home world

Smart speakers and displays are seeing increased usage and experimentation since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Google Home speaker on a table

While some of the voice trends emerging from shelter-in-place are not entirely surprising, others are more profound and will likely have long-term implications on the use of voice technology in the home.

Photo: Thomas Kolnowski/Unsplash

Every workday at 5 p.m. sharp, a speaker in the corner of Mark Spates' home office starts playing bossa nova. Spates, who leads Google's smart speaker efforts, set up this routine a couple of weeks into shelter-in-place after realizing that he was working 12-hour days without a break. Now, the Brazilan rhythms remind him to take a breather.

It's just one example of how smart speakers are quickly becoming a more integral part of people's lives in the work-from-home era. "Usage is up overall," Spates said, because "everyone is at home." While some of the voice trends emerging from shelter-in-place are not entirely surprising, others are more profound and will likely have long-term implications on the use of voice technology in the home.

Forty-one percent of U.S. broadband households own a smart speaker or smart display, according to Parks Associates. Among those households, music listening and video viewing on smart speakers and displays are up significantly during shelter-in-place, with Spates calling out Chromecast usage in particular as something that has grown a lot over the past couple of months.

Recipes are also being used a lot more, especially on smart displays. Consumers are "looking for the assistant to become their sous chef," Spates said. Some of the most popular voice requests are down, including questions about traffic conditions and potential rain. "You're not so worried what's the weather today," Spates said, adding that home security also was less of a concern for many people since they're not actually leaving the house.

Those observations are echoed by a recent NPR/Edison Research report, which found that simple "what time is it" questions have also declined during shelter-in-place. Media consumption, on the other hand, has increased significantly during the pandemic, with NPR/Edison finding that 36% of the smart speaker owners it surveyed were listening to more music and entertainment, and 35% reporting more news consumption.

Video chat on compatible smart displays has seen massive growth, Spates said. "Video calling is the really big shift that happened," he said. "Everyone calls Grandma." Google introduced a first smart display with an integrated camera last year, and Spates said that he expects those devices will continue to be used for communication even after shelter-in-place is lifted. "I don't think that's going to go away," he said. "It's the new norm."

Other shifts are more subtle but could be just as consequential in the long run. "Beforehand, the house was very transient," Spates said. Now, voice-controlled speakers and smart displays are becoming a lot more family-oriented, which includes group calls but also other shared interactions. And with everyone stuck at home, we observe each other interacting with these devices, picking up cues on how to get the most out of voice assistants. "These devices are extremely communal," Spates said. "Every person learns from each other."

Early data also seems to suggest that smart speakers are starting to permeate more of the home, moving beyond the kitchen or living room. Seventy-one percent of the people surveyed by NPR/ Edison in early April said that they were thinking about getting another speaker to entertain children in additional rooms of their house, compared to 47% who expressed that intent a year earlier. Spates said that his team has seen an increased use of speakers for bedtime stories and similar children's entertainment.

Aside from these patterns, Spates and his team are also seeing a lot more experimentation, with consumers using timers and reminders in unexpected ways to make smart speakers work for their personal shelter-in-place needs. He is taking some of these cues and is now thinking about ways of incorporating them into future product and feature ideas, which could include additional wellness nudges to discourage unhealthy work-from-home habits — with or without bossa nova.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

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