A new simple way to Alexify everything heralds an inclusive future for all

Recent additions to the smartspeaker toolkit, enabling products of all shapes and sizes to suddenly become smart, are set to revolutionise access for people with disabilities - oh, and it'll mean that everyone else can save themselves from a lot of boring button-pushing, tiresome screen-tapping and unnecessary knob-fiddling too.

Smarten your surroundings and step up accessibility

In a recent post on how even the Rubik's Cube now has Bluetooth I sketched out the vision that smarter, more connected devices are better for everyone. In a nutshell, if a product isn't accessible to someone with a disability (perhaps they can't see or manipulate its controls or otherwise interpret or interact with its interface), then an additional option of driving that device by way of a smartspeaker suddenly makes that product accessible  - and simultaneously sexy too (IMHO). And before you become too concerned that smartspeakers must surely be excluding those with no speech or hearing, think again as both leading products (the Amazon Echo and Google Home) have options for spoken output to be displayed on a screen and instructions entered by text or via a menu of commonly used commands.

The popularity of such smartspeakers has led to a proliferation of associated connected products. From microwaves to fridges, from TVs to thermostats, from standard lamps to singing fish, every new device isn't considered complete without automatic Alexafication.

Singing fish - Billy the Bigmouth Bass

However, I predict that this explosion of Alexa and Google-connected gadgets is soon set to go supernova. With the advent of two tiny gizmos - the Alexa Connect Kit and the Google Assistant Connect - that make the process even easier, cheaper and more secure, the time is upon us when you'll be hard-strapped to source any new appliance that doesn't have connectivity with Alexa or the Google Assistant (or both) thoroughly baked-in. 

That might sound alarming - and the two most obvious concerns would be around privacy and cost. 

As for privacy - that boat sailed long ago. Unless you decline to have a smartphone or smartspeaker in your home then you're probably already resigned to the possibility that companies (and even governments) are able to eavesdrop on us at will. I personally don't think that this is an inevitability of this wonderful new tech, but I'm open to the prospect and resigned to it. 

As for cost, well the beauty of these new tiny smart-connection gizmos is that they're cheap - really cheap. They're also a self-contained system on a single chip that handles all the fiddly wi-fi connectivity, security protocols and access to the AI services of the smart assistant. Thus Any modern appliance can be turned into a smart-speaker-enabled device with little or no cost needing to be passed on to the customer. 

A great example is the Amazon Basics Microwave which is full-featured, high-powered and a snip at $59.99 (alas still US-only for now).

Photo of the Alexa microwave on a kitchen counter next to a bowl of popcorn

Embracing a smarter, more connected future

So I, for one, welcome our AI overlords and embrace a future where we have options. With smart-assistant-connected appliances we'll have the option of asking an ever-listening assistant to turn up the heat, turn on the oven, set the microwave to defrost half a pound of halibut or call a friend (or an ambulance) regardless of whether we have the ability to do this another, more conventional way or not. 

So bless Amazon, Google and all other smartspeaker suppliers both now and in the future. Keep our options broad, our devices connected and secure - and please, pretty please, don't spy on us unless you really, really have to.

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