Help wanted. How Alexa became today’s household worker

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With voice recognition fully ingrained in the lives of the new generation, virtual assistants and AI will enable them to be more productive and happy at their workplace.

While voice recognition has been around for many years, the technology has progressed a lot recently. I’m starting to make practical use of it now. For example, I’m on regular speaking terms with my car satnav. She asks if I want to divert to a nearby garage when fuel is low; I tell her my next meeting venue, and she advises me on different routes.

Of course, a whole new generation is being raised with voice recognition fully ingrained in their lives. Children who have Alexa in the home would find my satnav conversations quite primitive. They’ll happily ask her to do all sorts of things, from playing music, to turning on lights, to researching their homework.

This led me to think that, without consciously realizing it, we’re ushering in a new era of private household staff. Alexa and other connected technologies enable us all to have virtual butlers, housekeepers, cooks, and chauffeurs, helping us out with everyday tasks and keeping our schedules on track. It’s almost as if the recent popularity of Downton Abbey was preparing us all for how to live with servants in the home.

Connected for convenience

Quizzing Alexa on the day’s weather forecast or traffic updates certainly saves time in the morning – and asking her to order a takeaway or put on some music makes it easy to relax in the evening. But it gets more interesting when home devices start interacting. If you have a connected kettle, for instance, Alexa can become your butler, responding to your call for a morning mug of tea. With connected sensors in fridges and cupboards to help Alexa compile and issue a shopping list to automatically re-stock groceries, it’s like having a live-in housekeeper who takes care of your weekly shop too.

This trend will surely continue, and we’ll see more virtual staff appearing in the home. Smart lawnmowers taking on the role of gardener. Maintenance sensors that advise on building conditions, rather than paying a builder. Virtual accountants that track household expenditure and help us make smarter financial decisions. And as we adopt self-driving vehicles, assistants like Alexa will take on the role of a personal valet, bringing our car round to meet us at the front door. She’ll probably usurp my satnav too, mapping out my day well in advance based on my calendar.

Home today, work tomorrow

Given the growing sophistication of the technology, it won’t be long before the likes of Alexa are employed in the workplace, providing an automated level of support for business tasks. People experiencing the Sunday/Monday syndrome – when the technology they use at home isn’t available to them at work in the morning – will surely force the issue.

We’re certainly looking at how virtual assistants and AI could change how we operate at Capgemini. By developing AI advisors that can tap into vast pools of enterprise knowledge, we’re hoping that our people will need to spend less time hunting down information, enabling them to be more productive and happy in their work.

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