Hacking AI for Fun and Profit

I knew all along that AI was a component of the World Without Apps. What I didn’t expect was how quickly AI-driven actions would become a home-grown option. I subscribe to The Mag Pi magazine (a publication from the Raspberry Pi Foundation) and even got my first project published in the current issue (https://www.raspberrypi.org/magpi/issues/58/).

In the previous issue, the magazine included the complete Voice Kit AI project from the Google AIY (AI Yourself) project – basically a complete Google Assistant including an enclosure, speaker, button, Audio HAT, and more. My son and I quickly assembled the project, and now he has an almost Google Home device in his bedroom. This is absolutely interesting because Google funded sending thousands of these devices all around the world, but more interesting is that the core project here is extensible. The project runs on a Raspberry Pi, and you can add commands to the Google Assistant project code. Once you do that, you basically write the code to respond to your specific voice commands and you can make this device do anything, absolutely anything.

Your regular Google Assistant go to the cloud for execution (searches, weather reports and so on), but, if you connect some specialized hardware to it (not something specific, but any hardware you can control from the Raspberry Pi) and correspondingly add your own code, suddenly your project becomes much more interesting.

From a Maker standpoint, this dramatically enhances the types of projects that I can make with this thing. I no longer have to deal with ANY of the complexities of voice interaction, the platform (Google AIY) takes care of that for me. All I have to do is connect my hardware, add the command to the acceptable command list, write some code, and I’m all set.

This will ultimately take us to something I’m worried about: AI everywhere. When companies (and hackers) start embedding AI into everything around us, suddenly we have multiple systems all listening for commands and stepping over each other. I got a good taste of this while watching this Spring’s Google I/O keynote. Everytime the presenter said “OK Google” to demonstrate a new capability on stage, my local Google Home device would wake up and answer. I had to put my phone in my pocket during the presentation so it couldn’t hear and answer as well.

What do you do when your car and phone both have AI capabilities? How does each device know it’s the target of the query? Will I then need to preface every query/command with the name of the target device I’m targeting? Probably at first, but ultimately, we’ll get to a single, overarching AI that understands what it can interact with locally. You’ll speak to the ceiling or your thumb, or whatever, and an available, compatible device will perform the action for you, whatever it is.

That’s where this is ultimately going, I’m certain of it. When that happens, we’re in the World Without Apps.

Voice-enabled Agents Everywhere

One of the reasons I became so certain that we were entering the age of no apps is the rise of voice agents. My BlackBerry had voice control capabilities years ago and Android and iOS both added capabilities well. My 2007 car supported an option for voice control, but I never installed one. The precipice was when I purchased an Amazon Echo for the kitchen. I’d started using Google Now and Siri for things, random searches, phone calls and opening apps, but when the Echo came into the house, it changed music for me.

I’m a huge fan of Sonos (www.sonos.com); I’ve got 4 of them in the house and I was expecting to add more before the Echo came to town. For a long time, I desired the ability to control my Sonos devices via voice control. I just wanted to be able to walk into a room and ask the device to start playing music. Sonos hasn’t adopted voice control, but as soon as I got an Echo, I found that I could play whatever music I wanted plus do more (such as check my calendar or put items on my todo list). What I quickly found was that I abandoned the Sonos device in the same room where I had an Echo since it was so much more work to open up an app to pick what to play when I could just ask for it. It didn’t matter that the Echo sound quality was lower than Sonos, the convenience factor so outweighed sound quality that the Sonos is now collecting dust. Apparently a lot of Sonos customers have made the same switch.

The biggest issue is that so many personal or household devices are adding voice control, that there’s so many devices listening to you at all times. I even have multiple Android devices, so when I say “OK Google” multiple devices answer. In my house, I have 6 Android devices, one iOS device, two Echo devices – all of which are constantly listening to us, waiting for the next command. We also have an Xbox as well as a couple of smart TVs, all of which are listening as well.

So, in this World Without Apps (WWA), apps are going away at the same time that devices that are listening to us, in order to help us, of course, are increasing. We’ll have voice-enabled agents everywhere, all vying for our attention. How exactly do we deal with that?

Well, I imagine our cell phones become less important. With ubiquitous network connectivity and smart devices surrounding us, why do we need to carry a physical device around with us? I imagine that we’ll need access to screens in order to be able to interact with those data-driven apps I mentioned in an earlier post. Beyond that, you can interact with your surroundings without having a physical device in-hand. Initially, those agents will be able to communicate with you through a Bluetooth headset for example, but eventually, once embedded technology becomes prevalent, you’ll be able to have private interactions with these agents through the electronics embedded into your brain. How cool would that be?