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Smart speakers are getting even smarter: here's what to look forward to in 2024


Ad Tech Audio and Voice Effectiveness
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Say It Now's Sam Newman details the future of voice assistants in 2024, with a prediction from market expert Charlie Cadbury

To the majority of people, smart speakers are a novelty item. Something cool to mess around with when you first get your hands on one, and then slowly it just becomes an easier way to get the radio on or solve a family disagreement over dinner about how long a flight is from London to Sydney (around 23 hours if you are wondering). But in more recent times, smart speakers have silently started to evolve into what they were first set out to be, a sort of personal assistant that can do anything you wish- whilst you lay there on the sofa watching TV, all through the power of voice. Now you may be thinking, if smart speakers are moving in such a positive direction, then how come I haven’t changed the way I use mine? And what's driving change? We’ll tell you … voice.

Smart speaker usage in the UK

Before we talk about the boom in voice, we need to address why it's happening now. Smart speakers have reached a point where if you do not own one, then you are part of the minority. In fact, according to The Media Leader (2023), 60% of UK homes now have a smart speaker compared to just 22% at the start of the pandemic (Ofcom, 2022). This is a trend that we are seeing across Europe and North America. 

Aaron Rubenson, VP of Alexa said that engagement with Alexa was up 35% in 2022, which comes as no surprise as Amazon has recently passed the mark of selling 500 million Alexa-enabled devices. It’s not only the younger generations that are getting involved with smart speakers but in the UK in 2023, 44% of 55-64-year-olds have their hands on one and 33% of 65-74-year-olds also own one (Statista, 2023). Compare this to smartwatches, another bit of tech that was released to the public in 2014, and you can see the difference in demand with only about 224 million being sold, as well as a large generational split (DemandSage, 2023). What does this tell us? Voice is on top.


Why voice is becoming more prominent

Voice is the easiest way to communicate, that's why we have developed a voice box after all. However, when it comes to technology we seem to take a step backwards having to navigate our way through phones or TVs to get to our desired destination. Searching the web is another example of where the fastest technology seems to forget the fastest way to search for information. In fact, typing with two thumbs achieved an average of 38 words per minute (Aalto University, 2019. This is nearly four times slower than an average conversation, which sits between 120-150 words per minute (VirtualSpeech, 2022). Thankfully, the world is starting to wake up to voice, as shown by the huge increase in smart speakers. 

This trend with voice is not stopping anytime soon either, with predictions from an article from Tech Brew (2023) stating that 45% of the US population will use a voice assistant in 2026, whilst this is only 36.6% in 2023 (Demand Sage, 2023). The current rapid advancements of AI that we are seeing unfold mean that all industries can move into voice confidently. It can add another layer of security when logging into your emails or cloud spaces. Healthcare may improve with smarter chatbots being able to help patients further detail their problems, saving needed time for doctors. The future of voice looks the brightest it's ever been, but what is happening to get us there?

Gen AI is enhancing voice technology

With rapid improvement of voice technology it's only right we start with Alexa. 

Amazon recently announced a huge update for the voice assistant that brings a new large language model and a host of conversational AI capabilities through the help of generative AI, which all in all will make Alexa feel more human. Amazon says this new large language model (LLM) is custom-built specifically for voice interactions, which in turn enhances five main capabilities. 

The first of which is an enhanced conversation understanding. Amazon says that it has fused sensors from echo models with AI that can understand non-verbal cues, as well as reducing latency allowing for natural conversational flow without pauses. 

The second enhancement is real-world utility. Amazon states that the new Alexa LLM will be connected to hundreds of thousands of real-world devices and services via APIs, which allows users to build complex tasks in one statement, rather than having to turn multiple devices on and off individually.

Another enhancement is now Alexa will now remember context and be more personalised. This is great as you can keep conversations going, rather than having to ask Alexa a similar question to find out more information. For example, now you can ask Alexa a question about a restaurant, and continue the conversation to find out directions, opening times etc. Leading on from this, the new LLM will give Alexa much more of a personality, giving Alexa opinions on topics and a point of view to build from. 

Finally, Amazon states with this new generative AI being used and brought into your homes, its commitment to earning customers’ trust will not change. With this being the largest implementation of LLM it’s intriguing to see how the changes introduced will alter the way we use Alexa in the long-term. 

Charlie's predictions for 2024

The future of generative AI looks bright, but what about the near future?

Here’s what Charlie Cadbury, CEO of Say It Now, had to say about AI and voice technology in 2024. Talking about AI itself Charlie stated: “AI hype will start to land in modest form and also disappoint. People will find their jobs are not being taken but certain workflows are becoming far quicker and easier.” Talking about smart speakers, which Charlie is an expert in the field, he suggests: “Assistants will be getting cleverer and that includes voice assistants like Alexa who will be able to hold more convincing conversations and deliver more value.” Charlie then spoke about how we may interact with smart speakers: “Actionable ads that consumers can respond to using their voice will become an industry standard as the real-time data that these campaigns is of so much value to the advertiser as well as being a more intuitive way for the consumer to engage without having to break their behaviour.” Overall, Charlie seems to have a positive approach to AI in 2024 and how it can improve our lives, but is not jumping the gun just yet.

In conclusion

Smart speakers have transitioned from novelties to indispensable personal assistants, with 60% of UK households owning one. The key driver is the efficiency of voice communication, aligning with our natural interactions. Recent statistics and engagement data reflect this shift. Amazon's Alexa update, with a large language model and enhanced AI capabilities, promises to make voice assistants more human-like, improving conversation understanding, real-world utility, context retention, and personalisation. 

Looking to 2024, experts like Charlie Cadbury predict continued AI progress, with voice assistants becoming smarter and the integration of actionable voice ads as industry standards. In short, voice technology is on an upward trajectory, offering more natural and efficient interactions and promising exciting advancements in the near future.

By Sam Newman, Marketing and Sales Executive

Say It Now

Say It Now specialises in understanding natural language so that computers can talk to people in the same way that people converse with each other.

Posted on: Friday 27 October 2023