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How successful are intelligent language assistants?

Looking outside the box - Part 01

How successful are intelligent language assistants?

They're on the smartphone, in cars and in the house. They listen to names like Siri, Alexa or Cortana and are becoming increasingly popular in Germany: intelligent language assistants. In our series "Looking outside the box" we write at irregular intervals about topics that concern us. This time it's about language assistants. With language assistants everything - as the name already betrays - revolves around speaking. But what exactly is an intelligent language assistant and what can it do?

A speech assistant uses speech recognition software and self-learning algorithms to decode human speech and execute an application. For example, if a user wants to set an alarm on their smartphone, they usually do so by opening the appropriate app. With an intelligent language assistant, however, the user only has to say: "Wake me up tomorrow at 06:00 a.m.". The wizard then automatically executes the command without the user having to lift a finger.

The first intelligent language assistant is older than many might think. IBM presented a device called "Shoebox" as early as 1962 at the World Exposition in Seattle. Shoebox was able to recognize 16 spoken words and ten numbers. Just over a decade later, Harpy, the language assistant at the US Department of Defense, was able to identify 1,011 words. This is roughly the vocabulary of a three-year-old. But the real breakthrough came in 2011 when Apple introduced its Siri intelligent language assistant.

Because between the first models and today's language assistants such as Alexa, Siri or Google Home there are of course worlds. While the first language assistants would hardly have convinced a single user, many people can no longer imagine their lives without the intelligent language assistants. Because the more advanced and precise language assistants become, the more helpful they are for users. They make life easier for them and save time. It is therefore not surprising that language assistants are also becoming increasingly popular in Germany.

Alexa, how will the weather be tomorrow?

At the beginning of 2016, around 28 million people in Germany already had experience with intelligent language assistants. According to a survey by the Yext digital platform among a thousand German Internet users, 26 percent of 35-54-year-olds used a language assistant. Among younger users aged between 18 and 34, the figure was as high as 44 percent. But what do Germans actually use their language assistants for? Predominantly in the household and for shopping! This was the result of a study conducted by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University on behalf of the marketing agency Quisma. According to the survey, a good third of those surveyed find language assistants helpful when shopping. 56 percent create shopping lists with language assistants and 40 percent use them directly for online shopping.

At MediaMarktSaturn, the first applications for voice shopping are therefore also available - but we see voice control primarily as a supplementary channel: "Voice makes many things easier when shopping, but only in combination with other channels delivers a full shopping experience. Already today, customers use language assistants to inform themselves or to reorder a defined product," says Chief Innovation Officer Martin Wild. In addition, the smart language assistants are used primarily as practical everyday helpers. Users ask them about the weather, let them play music or set their alarm clock with them. Users find the speech assistants for device control in the kitchen, in the car and in the bedroom most helpful.

The most popular language assistant in Germany is Alexa, by the way. Amazon's language assistant was found in 43 percent of all households, followed by Google Home (25 percent), Siri (20 percent) and Microsoft's Cortana (9 percent). This picture changes when you count not only the dedicated language assistants, but also those built into smartphones. Every Android user has Google Home in his smartphone, every Apple user Siri. In most new cars, you can enter the navigation destination and the desired music by voice.

One third of Germans would use language assistants

Siri & Co. can be a great help for users. If you get used to the technology and have already tried out basic functions such as weather forecast, online search or device control, you will notice how much more the language assistants can actually do. Language assistants tell good jokes For example, the assistants can be connected to the TV via the home WLAN and to streaming services such as Netflix. Instead of the usual cumbersome loading of a movie or series via the remote control, you can do this conveniently by voice command.

The voice assistants can also be networked with loudspeakers or music systems throughout the house. For example, you can use a voice command to enter from which system and in which room the music should sound. The reminder functions of voice assistants can also be particularly practical. For example, if you know that you frequently misplace your glasses, you can tell your speech assistant: "Don't forget that I have set my glasses on the sofa table. If you can't find your glasses later, you can have the language assistant remind you. By the way: If users want to have a good laugh, language assistants can also help here. They tell amazingly good jokes.