Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Voice assistants change the way internet searches work

Here's something I had never thought about. As voice-activated artificial intelligence assistants proliferate - Google Assistant, Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana, among others - and as people gettig increasingly lazy, the internet search results we deal with are changing.
Google estimates that some 20% of questions are now aimed verbally at little electronic boxes, and some commentators see this increasing dramatically over the next few years, possibly to as high as 50%. So, this is not a trivial technological change.
Most importantly, a voice assistant answers your question with a single answer (or at best a handful), as though that were the definitive and unassailable truth if the matter. On the other hand, when we type a query into Google or some other search engine (are there still other search engines?), we get a whole host of answers from which we can select the one that best suits our purposes. At the very least, we get some alternative pespectives, which might broaden our understanding of a subject, or allow us to fact-check the first answer or obtain a quick second opinion.
Very few questions - other than things of the nature of "Who won the world series in 1993?" (it was Toronto, by the way) - are so black and white that there is absolutely no alternative context that might inform it. But if this is to be increasingly the way we obtain our information, then the stakes for companies to get their response to the top of the queue increase drastically.
It becomes, therefore, a winner-takes-all game, and the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) - and the risks of fake news - go through the roof. Arguably, we are aleady at the stage where the richest companies pay more to have their version if the truth the only version that matters; voice assistants will only exacerbate that situation. Smaller companies and organizations may be faced with expensive website do-overs and SEO advice they can ill-afford, in order to get themselves.out there.
The other thing is that voice assistants will typically give a much shorter, more simplistic answer than the wealth of information that tge internet actually shares, catering to the sound-bite-driven, short-attention-span world we seem to be entering.
All in all, the more I think about it, the scarier that future starts to look.

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