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Siri, Alexa, and Cortana—What are they really?

Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have established themselves as tech giants of recent years. Over roughly the last ten years, all of these have been racing to produce the best smart devices—and not just phones. Lately, devices such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana have become increasingly popular.

Basically, these software on our computers, phones, or separate devices function in three steps: recognition, process, action. USC Marshall’s article on these assistants describes the steps as, “speech to text, text to intent, intent to action”. (marshall.usc.edu How do digital voice assistants (e.g. Alexa, Siri) work?) Indeed, the technology behind each of these steps is astounding: various programs will take the sound waves your throat makes, turn them into “computer writing” or code, and send the code to the main processor of the unit. This processor uses vast amounts of programming to figure out what you want to say. For example, if you ask Siri, “What is the weather,” this processing unit must interpret you tone to decide if you simply want to know if the weather will be “nice”, the actual temperature, weather for the upcoming days, search the web for “what is the weather” or play a song called “Weather.” After this step, Siri searches the device or the internet for what she thinks is what you want to know. Finally, she acts on her end result and gives you the weather.

Interestingly, this sort of technology is the basis of AI—artificial intelligence—or self-providing machines. Even from Leonardo DaVinci’s time, man has been obsessed with this idea of, essentially, robots.
While our Echo Dots and Google Homes cannot function autonomously yet, this technology is the bridge from machines with only one function and limited capability to machines which can multitask and make decisions for themselves. Only the future will show where this technology will go. 

Charlton, Alistar. “Hello, computer: As Alexa soars and Siri flags, what’s next for the virtual 

     assistant?” gearbrain.com, 20 Nov. 2017. Accessed 17 May 2018. 

Marshall.usc.edu. 17 Oct. 2017, www.marshall.usc.edu/blog/ 

     how-do-digital-voice-assistants-eg-alexa-siri-work. Accessed 17 May 2018. 

(Image #1 from amazon.co.uk)

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