US tech multinational Amazon announced that it will lead an initiative to make different voice assistants like Alexa and Cortana compatible among themselves and with all the different mobile devices on the market, a move for which the firm has obtained the support of more than 30 companies. A day before the company headed by Jeff Bezos presents its latest hardware products, Amazon revealed the Voice Interoperability Initiative with the aim of providing customers with "choice and flexibility through multiple, interoperable voice services", Efe news reported on September 23.
The proposal already has the support of Amazon itself (the owner of Alexa), Microsoft (which owns Cortana), Baidu, BMW, Bose, Harman, Logitech, Salesforce, Sonos, Sound United, Sony Audio Group, Spotify, Tencent, Orange, SFR, Verizon, Intel, NXP Semiconductors and Qualcomm Technologies, among other firms. "Multiple simultaneous wake words provide the best option for customers. Utterance by utterance, customers can choose which voice service will best support a particular interaction. It's exciting to see these companies come together in pursuit of that vision," said Bezos in a statement.
The ultimate goal is for users to be able to activate their virtual assistants, regardless of who manufactured them, by saying the activation word such as "Alexa" or "Cortana," or any other code word and thus have the freedom to interact with multiple voice services on a single device. For products that include multiple voice services, the firm feels that the best way to give customers choices is to allow the use of multiple simultaneous wake words, allowing customers to access different services by using the proper activation command on the same device.
Although many firms have signed on to the initiative, three major tech players with their own virtual assistants have not: Apple with Siri, Google with Google Assistant and Samsung with Bixby. Virtual assistants have made headlines over the past few weeks since the Belgian press reported in early July that people hired by Google were listening to some of the interactions users were having with Google Assistant and, after that, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft admitted to similar practices.
These are practices that have been done since voice assistants first came onto the market and are well-known within the sector, but often they have not been communicated to the public in a precise or transparent way, which has caused a certain media commotion. The companies justify the practice by saying that despite the advances in automated learning and artificial intelligence, devices remain imperfect and, thus, they sometimes need for human operators to ensure that they are functioning correctly and contribute to improving the system.