You Will Never Believe What Voice Control Technology Can Do
December 14, 2017
Voice assistants invite you to cast off into futuristic waters just by speaking. These systems use a small speaker that stands ready to answer your questions, from the practical to the curious, as well as relay your instructions to other smart devices. Voice assistants can simplify your daily routine, playing your latest Spotify favorites when your hands are full or fielding queries you usually type into your phone about topics such as traffic and weather. They can also entertain, performing tasks that are just plain fun or out of the ordinary. For example, Google Home can play the sound of any animal with a prompt such as "OK Google, what does an emu sound like?" Here's a round-up of some of the technology's features.
Most households find that the technology's handiest tools are those that simplify routine tasks. Voice control frees up your hands for multitasking, so you can make phone calls as you type or set a timer in the kitchen while you wash up. If you're constantly misplacing things, you can tell your device to remember that, for example, you put your cell phone bill in your filing cabinet, so you can later ask where it is. Most voice-control systems allow you to pre-program responses to events using “If This, Than That” or IFTTT. This web-based service lets you set up contingencies from the silly to the serious, such as telling your coffee maker to brew a fresh pot whenever you say "rise and shine" or blocking out free time in your calendar if you have a personal emergency. You can also combine actions, such as turning off lights and lowering the thermostat when you say "bedtime." IFTTT works with other apps and websites, so you can update your holiday shopping list on a Google Doc or post directly to Facebook and Twitter with your voice.
Armed with an assistant, you can ask about your schedule for the coming day, add a meeting to your calendar or call a ride service. Cooler still, some voice assistant can discriminate between the voices of different users, so when you ask it to call Mom, it doesn't ring your mother-in-law. In the kitchen, a voice assistant can convert measurements, provide recipes and suggest substitutions for ingredients. The device knows anything the internet knows, which comes in handy for study and research. For example, Google Home can pull up any New York Times article going back to 1851 using Time Machine. Try to be careful when your kids pull out their textbooks — a voice assistant can totally do their math homework for them. While technically this fritters time rather than manages it, Google Home comes with Easter eggs that are pretty amusing to happen upon. Ask "Okay Google, what is the meaning of life? And it replies: "I have a factory warranty, so I don't worry about things like that."
Control Your Home
Another big benefit lies in the technology's broad compatibility with a range of smart home products, including security, sprinkler systems, appliances and even smart electronics such as baby monitors and robotic vacuums. The simple voice commands liberate you from managing different apps for different products, making the entire smart system work, well, smarter. You can ask the system to turn up your smart thermostat or unlock the front door for guests while you pull dinner from the oven. Smart lighting comes with some especially cutting-edge features, like commanding your color-changing smart lamp to turn blue or syncing your Christmas tree to light up after sunset. Bypassing the apps also makes it faster and easier to deploy energy-saving features. With a spoken command, you can turn off your smart lighting and adjust the thermostat before you go to work. Syncing your voice assistant to your smart devices is usually straight-forward, requiring no more than setting up your new assistant and making sure your smart products are turned on so the assistant can recognize them and prompt you to approve the connection.
Set a Mood
Voice control technology works with most smart devices in your entertainment arsenal, from your TV to your computers speakers, allowing you to request your favorite movie from the couch or turn up the volume without leaving the dance floor. If you don't want to shell out for new electronics, look into dongles, which connect to your non-smart television and sound system to stream content through services such as Netflix. You can shop for a dongle that's compatible with your voice assistant to maximize what's possible. For example, when you use Google Home and Google Chromecast together, you can call out requests for any YouTube video, opening up avenues from the cute ("Okay Google, play baby tries ice cream video on the TV") to the hysterical ("Okay Google, play cat keyboard video on the TV"). Voice assistants also help you charge up or wind down. You can play a game with the kids over breakfast, or dim the chandelier as you sit down to dinner.
Most voice assistants are compatible with a variety of third-party smart devices, but if you have older tech or devices for a closed system such as home security, consider checking with the manufacturer before you buy. Most new users may find it takes some time to learn their voice assistant's preferred words and phrases. However, you can find command libraries from your device's manufacturer to help you learn the ropes, or can check the libraries compiled by the technology news site CNET. 
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