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Talking to smart homes may fade as we text our toaster


NEW YORK – March 14, 2017 – The voice-control market is seeing explosive growth in the smart-home arena, from Amazon's Echo to Google's Home. More homeowners are taking control, using their voice to speak commands to their appliances.

But some manufacturers are starting to question whether voice controls represent the future. They think, instead, that more homeowners will prefer text commands.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg has been working on Jarvis, his own voice-controlled AI home automation system, because he prefers communicating by text voice. "It feels less disturbing to people around me," he says.

Several major appliance makers are experimenting with text messages to appliances, everything from texts like "start the coffee machine" to "preheat the oven to 200 degrees at 6:30 p.m."

"Think of it as a universal translator between the languages that machines speak … and us humans," says Toby Ruckert, CEO of Unified Inbox, which offers a service that can handle text messages to appliances. Besides controlling devices like ovens and kettles, the company is also testing text messaging to other home systems like door locks, garage openers, window blinds toasters, and garden sprinklers.

"People aren't going to want a different interface for all the different appliances in their home," says Jason Jameson with IBM, which is pairing its Watson AI supercomputer with Unified Inbox to better understand user messages. "The common denominator is the smartphone, and even more common is the messaging app."

Source: "Smart Condo Conundrum: Talk to Appliances, or Text Them?" Reuters (March 12, 2017)

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