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Voice control your world

Amazon’s Echo range of smart speakers presents a novel way of interacting with technology.

Abhiraj Ganguli |

Who said science fiction yarns are mere figments of a creator’s fertile imagination without a basis in reality? Instances are numerous of gadgets and technology from sci-fi movies or books finding a way into real life — think submarines (Jules Verne’s Nautilus inspired American undersea exploration inventor Simon Lake), earbuds (from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451) or mobile phones (strikingly similar in design to Star Trek’s communicators).

The latest in this line is Amazon’s Echo range of smart speakers. As it turns out, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos was a Star Trek geek growing up and role-played the characters from the show with his friends.

He always envisioned integrating voice commands into technology, much akin to the pre-Siri computer voice on Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. Talk about taking fandom to the next level!

It inspired the conceptualisation of Echo, which wakes up with the word, “Alexa”. Launched first in the US, the speakers faced some issues in India as they were often unable to pick up Indian accents.

That has now been remedied as the new range is quite comfortable with all manners of speech. However, at the outset, one must say that the commands being only compatible with English, the Echo will not be accessible to the country’s vast majority and also those with speech impediments will find it difficult to operate.

That said there’s much to like about Echo. Being entirely designed around one’s voice, it is always ready, hands-free and fast and, also has a far-field microphone array — one doesn’t need to be too close to the device for the commands to work.

Although the installation can be a little cumbersome initially, it works like a sci-fi dream once the set up is done. From playing music (thanks to its room-filling sound powered by Dolby) to booking a cab or movie tickets, it’s almost an invisible computer.

One just has to go, “Alexa”, followed by the command — “Play Arijit Singh songs”, “Will it rain tomorrow”, “How many days to Diwali”, “What is India’s cricket score” or “Tell me a joke” — and she will accomplish the task. Those who have the Alexa app can call or message each other as well.

Echo devices run on Wi-fi and being connected to the cloud, Alexa can update its “skills” like playing devotional songs, finding diverse information and reading out recipes. The design is extremely sleek and compact and therefore can be put anywhere in the room.

Though much more than just a speaker, those who aren’t tech-savvy will take time to warm up to the Echo beyond playing music or asking for trivia. That doesn’t, however, take away from its capabilities to completely revolutionise the way we interact with technology in the years to come.