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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ennis

Eye on AI - September 27th, 2019

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


This week’s theme is all about voice-assisted AI, with particular focus on two recent moves by Starbucks and Amazon that shifted the voice assist AI space.

Starbucks China Offers Voice-Assisted Ordering Devices

Starbucks is making waves as they bring voice-assisted ordering and delivery into the homes of their Chinese customers. The move comes after a year-long partnership with the tech giant Alibaba. Reporter Eric Schwartz, in his Voicebot. AI article “Starbucks Launches Voice Ordering On Alibaba Tmall Genie Smart Speaker in China”, explains:

“The Starbucks voice order skill works via Alibaba’s food delivery platform launched earlier this month. Tmall Genie users can place their order with a nearby Starbucks and arrange to have it delivered to their location. The payment runs through the user’s Starbucks account, so they can get the membership rewards. The voice skill also enables users to listen to Starbucks playlists through Alibaba’s Xiami Music service.”

The U.S. market could be next. But so far, voice ordering hasn’t caught on here like it has in China. That may change as voice ordering devices become more popular, as outlined by Daniel Klein of The Motley Fool in his article “Is This Starbucks Move a Sign of Things to Come?

“If this works in China, it's logical to expect Starbucks to bring the technology (or at least something similar) to the U.S,” writes Klein.” The company has been working to optimize its stores to improve the customer experience. Allowing people to order using their voice and a digital assistant furthers that mission as long as Starbucks can figure out how to make it easy (and not frustrating).”

Alibaba’s genie isn’t the first voice assist to partner with Starbucks. Amazon, Google and Samsung devices already offer Starbucks ordering and delivery capabilities in various locations. But the release by Alibaba, and the additional Starbucks integrations with Alibaba’s suite of products, will significantly broaden the retail giant’s at-home customer reach.

Will Amazon’s Alexa Soon Be Everywhere?

We continue with a potentially ground-breaking voice assist AI news out of The MIT Technology Review. Tn their article, titled “Amazon wants you to be surrounded with Alexa—wherever you are”, reporter Charlotte Lee explains how Amazon’s release of three new Alexa-inspired devices suggests more voice assist devices are soon to be coming to our public spaces.

“While Google Assistant is embedded into Android smartphones, people currently use Alexa only at home, and there’s no Amazon smartphone,” writes author Charlotte Lee. “That’s a limitation Amazon wants to overcome, pushing deeper into people’s lives, and that’s partly why it wants interoperability between Alexa and other tech companies’ products (though Google, Apple, and Samsung are not playing ball).”

The bigger question is how comfortable people are with voice assist devices out in the open? Phone voice assist use is limited in the U.S., and we haven’t really ever seen cultural acceptance of open public AI device, Google Glass being the most obvious failed example. But if public voice assist does catch on, with Amazon offering the first non-cellular voice assist devices to market, this move could pay off spectacularly in the future.

Other news:


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